NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Newport News Police Department graduated another class of its Citizens Police Academy, but this academy class wasn’t like the dozens of others before.

For the first time in the department’s history, 16 people graduated from the department’s first Hispanic Citizens Police Academy, or La Academia De Policía Para Los Ciudadanos Latinos.

The 16 members of the first graduating class accepted their diplomas after seven long weeks of training conducted entirely in Spanish by Newport News Police Officers.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew says he knows how much this academy meant to not only the citizens, but his officers just by the tears shed by his officers as they were thanked for their service by the graduates.

“It’s a way of showing that we open our doors and people know that they’re valued, that they matter regardless of their religion, their race, their zip code, their language, right, that they matter to us,” said Drew.

For Soraida Franco, the NNPD Latino Community & Youth Outreach Liaison, this academy was her baby. Seeing it come to fruition to help educate her Latino community makes her feel fulfilled.

“Knowledge is power,” said Franco. “And when you have all that knowledge, you can pass it on to other people. You don’t want to be stopped by the police or get in trouble because you don’t know what’s going on. But if you have that knowledge, it changes your whole world.”

During the ceremony, graduates reflected on some of the topics officers taught – topics instructors believed those in the community would benefit from learning about. 

Officer Greymi Zapata is a new officer to the NNPD and said she just wanted to get involved with the academy in any way. She never thought that she’d be teaching lessons to the class.

“Traffic control is definitely needed. How do we act in traffic stops? Domestic violence was a big one. So we wanted to rank them in order of importance to them,” said Zapata.

For Ivelty Medrano, showing up for the academy every week would be a way for her to show up for the Latino community in the future.

“So I say if I learned this, then I’ll be out there to help others,” she said. “So, that’s what made me come back. And let me tell you one thing, perfect attendance, didn’t miss one day!”

Even more valuable than the lessons learned from the academy is the genuine interest shown in helping the Latino community.

“It’s something really, really valuable to me because I love to help Hispanic people,” said Medrano. “I’m so thankful to Chief Drew and the department for taking their time to create this academy for us.”

This is the first, but certainly not the last academy. If you’d like to know how to get involved in the next academy, email Soraida Franco at francos@nnva.gov.