Photo by Samantha Bengtson
Gonzales Police Sgt. Mendoza and Chief Wise (center) take a moment to congratulate graduates.
SOUTH COUNTY — A combined 57 residents of Greenfield, King City, Soledad and Gonzales graduated from the South County Community Police Academy last week at the Greenfield Memorial Hall.
The Community Police Academy is the product of a grant the four South County cities received to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community. Greenfield and King City coordinated one police academy for their residents, and Soledad and Gonzales coordinated another.
“Twelve weeks ago we started a journey to get more familiar with law enforcement, what we do and how we do things,” Greenfield Police Chief Denise Oglesby said at the May 31 ceremony.
“I hope that the course has helped you with a better understanding,” Oglesby added.
Jaclyn Perez, class president and resident of King City, didn’t know what to think about being surrounded by police officers when she started the academy.
“Are they going to be mean or rude? What’s it going to be like,” Perez said. “As the sessions continued I made friends and got to know some of the policemen. But we had failed as a community to see that these cops are also human.”
Perez said the experience was eye opening. The approximately three-month-long program teaches residents of each community that the police are here to protect them.
Class President for Soledad and Gonzales Community Police Academy is Joe Escarsege, a Greenfield resident.
“These 12 weeks have been interesting to say the least,” Escarsege said. “We’re in a time where we need to minimize the divide between our community and our police departments. Holding these types of programs helps the community and police departments come together.”
Organizing the Community Police Academy were Greenfield Police Officer Joseph Dyels, King City Police Sgt. Kip Bowen, Soledad Police Sgt. Leonel Mungia and Gonzales Police Sgt. Juan Mendoza.
According to Soledad Police Chief Eric Sills, this is the second academy that has been jointly between two cities in the past two years.
“It is reassuring to me and all of us to know that we now have some friends out there who understand what we do a little bit more,” Sills said. “It’s a difficult job to be a police officer, so it’s good that you have a little bit more of an insight to realize there’s two sides to the story.”
A total of 19 students from Greenfield, 14 from King City, 17 from Gonzales and seven from Soledad graduated as part of this year’s South County Community Police Academy.