The Southampton Police Department on Long Island wants to improve its relationship with the local Latino community. One step they’ve taken is to restart its civilian police academy. The Department worked with the nonprofit agency Organización Latino-Americana, or OLA, to develop it.
Southampton’s Citizens Academy is a 12-week program that teaches citizens everything from the laws of arrest to how to confront suspects. Participants play the role of police officers in realistic simulations.
“This is the driveway, you’re going to park the car, and then we’re going to walk up.”
That’s Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa, and she’s about to guide participants into a break-in scenario.
Wilson Trelles has strapped on a bulletproof vest. Armed with a prop gun, he and a partner have approached a suspicious car with tinted windows. One of the passengers pulls a gun.
“Put the gun down! Down! Now! I’m not gonna tell you again.”
“I’m not turning around.”
“Get on the ground.”
“What’re you gonna do? Are you gonna shoot him? Are you gonna shoot him?”
“Get on the ground.”
Trelles pulls the trigger.
Sergeant Lewis Scott led the simulation.
“Why did you finally decide to shoot him?” Scott asks.
“I told him three times, ‘I’m not gonna tell you again,’” Trellis says.
“So you shot him to protect him? You see how fast it can change.”
Southampton Police Lieutenant Susan Ralph oversees the training. She was the one to suggest that the Academy be brought back in the hopes to bridge the gap between the police and the community.
“It’s just the temperament of the country. For years now, it’s almost like us against everyone else. And it’s not that way. Policing is not about us against the world. It is about working together for a common goal, and that’s to make communities safe. Safe for everyone.”
The program had been suspended for five years due to lack of interested civilians and funds. She says that given the current mistrust of the police by minority and immigrant communities, it is a more important resource than ever. That’s why she worked with Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA.
“So what OLA brings to bear is just another level of connection to that cultural diversity that we have, just the benefits of the cultural diversity that we have here in our East End area.”
The Academy’s participants will finish with a graduation ceremony on May 17.