SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — More than a dozen Latinos and Latinas graduated on Wednesday from a program called Links to Law Enforcement where they learned what it takes to be a cop.
The program has already graduated groups of Asian and African-American law enforcement hopefuls, and now 17 Hispanic hopefuls got their certificate—14 of them were women.
Salvador Villegas got his certificate on Wednesday.
“I’m excited, I’m ready and I’m just looking forward to see what comes after this,” he said. “I believe only when you put yourself in the situation of an officer, until you see what they go through, that’s when you can really understand why some of the things might happen.”
It’s a six-week program and precursor to the academy where minorities can get a taste of what it takes to be an officer of the law.
“Right now it’s tough getting enough people that want to get in this profession with all the negative publicity,” said Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers.
Confrontations in Ferguson and Baltimore have lowered the level of trust in police, Somers said, especially with minorities. That could dissuade them from pursuing a law-enforcement profession.
According to the most recent report from Sacramento Police, 76 percent of sworn officers were white, while only 45 percent of Sacramento’s total population was in 2013.
Stephanie Nguyen, executive director at Asian Resources, says those barriers in each minority community can include a lack of support systems, interview skills and English as a second language.
Villegas hopes one day to bridge the gap of minorities in law enforcement careers.
“If there was a Latino officer that came and helped me I would believe that I would have so much more in common, I would be more at ease to speak with them and let them know what’s going on, what happened, just because I feel like we have a similar background,” he said.
It’s not just an issue in Sacramento, but across the nation.
“We need to make sure people know these doors are open and we want everybody in this community to have an opportunity to work here and I think that will help make our policing efforts a lot easier,” Somers said.