New Waco Police Department program aims to build trust with Latino community

The Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s “Escalando” program is another tool providing greater access for Latinos
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 6:32 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - After suspecting a distrust between police and the Central Texas Latino community, the Waco Police Department is launching its first program hoping to bridge that gap.

On March 15 the department will host its first of four community meetings throughout the year for the new “Unidos” program. The meeting will be held at the South Waco Community Center at 6:30 p.m. All four meetings throughout the year will be held in Spanish.

Officer Anita Gomez, who has been with the patrol unit for 15 years, said she has seen skepticism from the Latino community with police. For most of her years on the force she has been assigned to the predominantly-Latino North Waco area.

“I had a hard time having conversations with having my victims or witnesses file a report,” Gomez said.

She said she’s found that Immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico and El Salvador don’t always trust the police department.

Gomez, and office assistant Nora Almanza, wanted to re-establish that trust, so they started the Unidos program. It draws inspiration from other police departments across the state.

”Plano’s Police Department have had ‘Unidos’ for a little over 20 years and it just started out in the street with someone,” Almanza said.

The meetings will cover topics like crime prevention, traffic stops, seat belts, car accidents and car seats. They want to eventually get to the point where Latinos can call them for other non-related crime needs such as advice on good plumbers in town.

”Our focus is that we are a resource for the community to help them meet their needs,” Gomez said.

Meanwhile in June the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce launched another program held in entirely Spanish for local business owners.

“You see a lot of resources for small businesses around town, but you see a void when it comes to ones in Spanish,” Eric Terrazas, director of economic development with the chamber, said.

Terrazas said the program he spearheaded is called “Escalando” and covers topics like marketing, technology and insurance at bi-monthly meetings.

”We average about 26 or 27 people per month and they’re all either current business owners or entrepreneurs that are looking to start something,” he said.

He said his clients don’t always understand documents like business licensing, lease agreements and tax records that are all usually in English.

”There’s always going to be gaps in something,” he said. “There’s so much information out there that needs to be translated, but we try to fill in where we can.”

The next “Escalando” meeting is Wednesday, March 29 at 5 p.m. at Waco Fire Station 6.