Muskogee breaks barriers in its Latin community with its first bilingual citizen's academy

Posted at 9:43 PM, Sep 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-12 22:43:00-04

MUSKOGEE, Okla. - The Muskogee Police Department celebrated a milestone, graduating its first ever class from the Bilingual Citizen’s Academy. 

Last year Muskogee PD said it evaluated how it serves each of its communities, and realized the Latin community was the least likely to call police and report crimes. 

Tuesday, the first step in a direction of trust between police and the people they serve. 

Everyone that walked through the doors of Muskogee’s MLK Center came to celebrate.

Forty-two graduates honored, and with more than a certificate, they’ve earned the honor of starting to bring Muskogee together. 

“What this class allowed us to do was to bring light to different reasons the police do what they do,” said Muskogee resident and class participant Victor Lezama. 

For six weeks they learned how the department’s procedures and protocol affect them and their families. 

Every word spoken in Spanish for the first time ever. 

“We wanted to reach out and make sure their stories are told as well,” said Muskogee Police Deputy Chief Reggie Cotton. 

And while he won’t take the credit, it could not have happened without Officer Joshua Garza. 

“I’ve always had that desire to serve the community, bring others together and be a force for good,” said Community Resource Officer Joshua Garza. 

He is the department’s only Spanish-speaking officer. 

“Without having someone with similar traits or similar backgrounds, it’s really hard to sit there and tell someone what you’ve been through, and for them to say I understand where you’re coming from,” said Lezama. 

The community, eager to now have a seat at the table of important conversations. 

“I’m hoping it’s going to create an easier atmosphere for the Latin community.”

Though many people were hesitant at first. 

“They were kind of worried about walking through that door thinking they were going to get rounded up and taken to jail.”

But ultimately learning those who wear the badge in Muskogee want to be more than strangers in uniform. 

“The police are here for us, they’re not here against us, they’re here for us.”

Officer Garza said the response has been overwhelmingly positive. 

This year’s class already planning how to start next year’s. 

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