Getting look at police, fire en español
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 17, 2004
Academy-style course focuses on public safety

Senta Scarborough
¿Habla español?

If so, then you can take advantage of a first-of-its kind Spanish-only program offered by police and fire officials to provide a peek inside Mesa public safety operations starting early next year.

The eight-week program for Spanish-speaking residents will be a shorter version of the Mesa Police Department's citizens police academy.

Officers will provide information about its Center Against Family Violence, crime prevention and other specialty units such as the air unit.

"It is really a great way for us to reach the community and provide them with why we do things we do," said Mesa police Sgt. Ruben Quesada. "We are really excited about it."

Firefighters will provide safety and fire prevention information as part of the program, Mesa fire Deputy Chief Mary Cameli said.

"We have a need to reach the Spanish-speaking community," Cameli said. "We are trying to reach as many people as we can because the information we give might be the information that saves their life."

The Spanish Language Familiarization Program will be conducted in Spanish and will begin March 15, and will be held each Tuesday from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Mesa Police/Fire Training Facility at 3260 N. 40th St. and Mesa fire station No. 2 at 830 S. Stapley Drive. Residents can enroll by calling Gina Silva at (480) 644-5284 by Feb. 18. The program does not require a background check as does the citizens police academy.

Mesa's Hispanic population accounts for 22 percent of the city, according to U.S. census figures.

Mesa fire officials have 43 certified Spanish-speaking personnel, and the department wants to have at least one Spanish-speaking firefighter per truck in five years.

"We want to get out the information of what we do. We don't just put out fires. We provide medical assistance," said Mesa fire Capt. Fernando Valenzuela. "We want them to know when to call 911 and to not be afraid. We are not going to put anyone in jail."

Valenzuela, president of the Mesa Bomberos, a non-profit group whose firefighter members help the Spanish-speaking community, said the program also offers Hispanic residents an opportunity to learn about city government.

The Mesa Police Department has about 130 certified Spanish-speaking officers and has a Spanish language committee. In the past few months, the department has started to track Spanish calls for service. Officers are asking dispatchers to flag calls as Spanish, but there is still a learning curve. Quesada said about 3 percent, or 300, of the daily calls are in Spanish.

Those interested in the classes must be at least 19, live or work in Mesa, have no felony arrests, and no misdemeanor arrests within one year.