NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Norfolk Police Department is hoping to build relationships through a new role on the force.
NPD recently named Cpl. Juvenal “Juve” Valdez as its first Hispanic community liaison officer.
The department said this role is part of its outreach efforts in the city, and it will help reach underrepresented communities.
“I feel very fortunate to be in this position,” Valdez said.
Valdez was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when he was four years old. He grew up in Chicago. He’s formed strong bonds with the Hispanic community during his 17-year career at NPD.
He served in multiple units, including vice and narcotics and crime prevention. While working in crime prevention, he started a soccer league of officers and residents of the Hispanic community, according to the department. He even launched the first Hispanic Citizens Police Academy in 2019. It’s currently on pause due to the pandemic.
“Right now, I keep getting calls of ‘When are you going to re-initiate the academy?’” Valdez said.
According to U.S. Census data, Hispanic and Latino residents represent about 8% of Norfolk’s population.
Officials say language barriers and immigration status may hinder people from coming forward when they need help.
“There’s people that are afraid because they’ve had bad experiences,” Valdez said. “What we are trying to do is work with them and let them know we’re here to help.”
Valdez has made regular appearances on local Hispanic radio stations to talk about law enforcement and answer questions.
Valdez said representation in law enforcement has a big impact on community engagement, but it’s more than just speaking Spanish.
“You have to share the culture and you have to know where everybody’s coming from,” he said.
Valdez will be educating officers about the needs of Hispanic residents and how to continue to gain trust through community walks. He also had other ideas in the works.
“I want everybody to put in their own ideas. We’ll put them all together and we’ll come up with something big,” he said.
Valdez said the role is a dream come true, and he hopes it might inspire someone in the community along the way.
“I never thought I could make it, but I made it … then, of course, you can make it too,” he said.