Sherman Police will offer a series of free educational courses meant to foster trust and communication between the city’s officers and its Hispanic, Latino and Spanish-speaking residents.

Sgt. Brett Mullen said the first class of the Unidos program will be offered on July 23 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 220 W. Mulberry St. Mullen said Chief Zachary Flores requested the program be implemented after seeing the Grand Prairie Police Department’s success with a similar outreach effort. The program is open to all members of the public and there is no cost to enroll or attend. Unidos is the Spanish word for “united.”

“The goal with it is to build trust between the Hispanic community and the police department,” Mullen said. “We also want to open lines of communication that aren’t currently there because of the language barrier and reduce the fear of police which may exist within the Hispanic community.”

Mullen said the first meeting will be used to discuss one of the most common situations in which citizens and police interact, but following meetings, which will be held quarterly, will largely be shaped by the interests and concerns of participants and may extend to other aspects of the Sherman community and city departments.

“For the first meeting, we’ve decided to cover traffic stops,” Mullen said. “That will let people know what kind of paperwork or identification people need if they’re driving in Sherman or Texas and the safest way to interact with officers. From there on, it’s going to be structured like a question-and-answer session. That way, participants can share any of their concerns or talk about what they want to see and learn in future meetings. It’s going to basically be their program and they’re going to be able to direct us on what information they want us to provide.”

The Sherman Police sergeant said while several of the department’s officers are able to speak and translate Spanish, the agency still has to contend with the language barrier and the uncertainty and fear it causes some in the Hispanic community feel.

“We know a lot of crimes probably go unreported because of that fear or mistrust,” Mullen said. “So, that’s an area where we really want to make a change. We need to know what’s happening and be aware of how we can better serve and respond to the community and solve crimes.”

With the U.S. Census Bureau reporting nearly 20 percent of all Sherman residents as either Hispanic or Latino and statewide growth among the demographic, Mullen said the Sherman Police Department felt it was crucial to include those citizens in the department’s outreach efforts.

“We realize that’s a part of our community we need to reach out to,” Mullen said.

Additional meetings have not yet been scheduled. For additional information about the Unidos program, call the Sherman Police Department at 903-892-7290.