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Georgia police department launches 'Hispanic citizens academy' to improve relations

Classroom desks used at Decker College await auction Friday, Feb. 10, 2006 at the site of the former school in Louisville, Ky. Decker, a for-profit trade school run by former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, is now closed, mired in bankruptcy proceedings and under FBI investigation in a case that has cast a long shadow over Weld's bid to become the next governor of New York. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)

Classroom desks used at Decker College await auction Friday, Feb. 10, 2006 at the site of the former school in Louisville, Ky. Decker, a for-profit trade school run by former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, is now closed, mired in bankruptcy proceedings and under FBI investigation in a case that has cast a long shadow over Weld's bid to become the next governor of New York. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)  (AP2006)

Every week, 30 Latinos gather at the Police Department in Duluth, Georgia, to learn about how law enforcement works and to separate fact from fiction.

The police department started the new program to improve communication and understanding between its officers and the growing Latino immigrant community, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The 10-mile-square city has a population of more than 27,000; 13 percent of whom are Latino.

Duluth Police spokesman Don Woodruff told the Daily Post that the agency generally enjoys a good rapport with Hispanics.

“All things considered, we have a good understanding of our community,” Woodruff is quoted as saying.

But these are times when many immigrants are leery of going to the police, often out of fear of deportation, and that was what those who came up with the idea for the Hispanic citizens' police academy – as the Daily Post called the program – wanted to address.

“I’ve found that’s the main concern, that’s the main problem in the Hispanic community,” said Det. Javier Bahamundi, who is involved with the course. A nearby city, Norcross, has a similar program, and inspired by the one in Duluth.

The officers say that they are not immigration agents, a message they want to drive home to the residents taking the course, which began March 3rd and runs through March 31st.

Bahamundi has been with the department in Duluth since 2007, and before that he was an officer in Puerto Rico for 17 years.

The department advertised the course in Spanish-language media, and the organizers were pleasantly surprised by the interest.

“It’s amazing how the Hispanic community responded,” Bahamundi said. “I’m still receiving calls from the people who want to apply.”

The enthusiastic reception has prompted the department to consider courses for other immigrant groups whose populations are growing, Woodruff said.

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