Madison Police Department’s Latino Youth Academy helps build trust with young people in community

MADISON, Wis. — “Amigos en Azul” is hosting its annual Latino Youth Academy this week.

In partnership with six different Dane County agencies, the camp teaches kids what officers do on a daily basis. More importantly, it gives kids a chance to learn about the officers behind the badge and connect with officers on a deeper level.

Amigos en Azul believes it’s that connection that will break through barriers in the community.

On Wednesday, kids interacted with police dogs, learned about police horses, worked with the SWAT team on mock tactical situations and also learned from firefighters and paramedics.

The camp’s goal is to develop trust and a bond between police and children and help them realize we’re all people, first and foremost.

“It’s like seeing another version of someone, that, you know, not many people see, because today in society some people look at officers as bad, but they actually have human feelings, and it’s not all that bad, you know, they’re actually nice human beings,” Ethan Ceron, a camp attendee, said. “I thought they were like serious serious, always focused on one thing, they never have time, they don’t mess around a little, but once I came here, actually, they do tend to have some laughs sometimes, it’s not about all violence and stuff like that, it’s actually pretty fun.”

Madison Police Ofc. Gracia Rodriguez said kids don’t necessarily have to be interested in becoming police officers to learn something from the event.

“Our main goal is to break down those barriers with our Latino community, especially our immigrant community,” she said.

Still, police know they have plenty of work to do beyond a five-day camp. One officer said language, cultural and traditional barriers are all still hurdles they’re constantly trying to clear, but added this program goes a long way toward helping.