Minorities are underrepresented on the Colorado Springs Police Department, a department spokesman said Wednesday at the monthly Latino Community Luncheon.
According to community relations officer Robert Wilson, the department has 649 police officers on duty and 67 of them are Hispanic, a reflection of the challenges law enforcement faces when recruiting minority police officers.
"We can do much better, and part of the problem is the reputation that police have with minorities," Wilson said. "To let go of that prejudice, they need to see men and women who look like them wearing this uniform."
Wilson and officer Martin Herrera were the keynote speakers at the Latinos in Law Enforcement luncheon held at the Hotel Elegante on Wednesday, part of an effort to bring attention to issues that concern the Latino community in Colorado Springs.
Carmen Abeyta has been with the Latino Community Luncheon almost three years, with Cinco de Mayo Inc. for almost 30 years and is a member of the Police Department's Community Advisory Board. She said law enforcement's interaction with the public is complicated by prejudice.
"People hear so many negative things about the Latino community, there needs to be more emphasis on the good, specially the importance of recruitment into law enforcement," Abeyta said.
"It's also difficult sometimes for Hispanic police officers to lay down the law. Those walls need to be torn down," he said.
Depending on the culture from which Latinos are raised, where they and their ancestors are from, there can be serious issues of mistrust of police, Herrera said.
"Those can be real challenges to police officers, because some minorities do not want to get involved or even associate with law enforcement in this country, because of how they were raised with those misconceptions," Herrera said.
The Police Department, Herrera said, has an Explorer Cadets program available for young people ages 14 to 20 to help them understand police operations and volunteer services to the community. The program aims to persuade youngsters to consider a career in law enforcement.
In 2012, the Explorer Cadets volunteered more than 3,600 hours to the community, Herrera said.
The bottom line, Herrera and Wilson agreed, is that more Latinos and other minorities joining the CSPD will be positive for the department and the community.
"If they don't see people who look like them wearing this uniform, how can they trust us?" Wilson said.