Thursday, November 17, 2011

El Protector turns 7; officers' embedded approach receives local and national honors

El Protector Hispanic Community Festival, Hickory Hollow Mall
By Cindy McCain

Nashville's nationally acclaimed El Protector Program turned seven this year, interacting in one way or another with the infants, youth, and adults across the Nashville community. Metro Nashville Police Department Commander Mike Alexander, who was recently awarded the “Building Neighborhoods Award” by the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, describes El Protector as "building trust and partnership between the police department and the Hispanic community."

In an interview with, Alexander gave an overview of El Protector's seven years (and counting) in Nashville:
The El Protector Program began in 2004 and originated within the South Precinct as a means to provide outreach and partnership between the police department and the Hispanic community. The program now has two sworn officers dedicated to this effort who are Gilbert Ramirez (South Precinct) and Rafael Fernandez (Hermitage Precinct). We have three events that we consider the most crucial during the year, which are the Hispanic Community FestivalHispanic Teen Academy and Soccer Tournament, and a Christmas event for disabled children in December.

El Protector Teen Academy

El Protector Soccer Tournament

The El Protector Program’s Board of Directors consists of approximately 15 members from various disciplines across the county who meet to discuss solutions and initiatives. Alexander stresses the importance of teamwork with other organizations in the community:
The El Protector Program is successful due to very committed partners and organizations within the community who are willing to work with us to make our city a safe and welcoming environment for all.  We have a great relationship with Cricket Communications as they provide approximately 40 cell phones to civilian translators who are on call to translate for the officers in the field.   We have recently added Hispanic clergy members to our Police Youth Response Team who are on call to assist with any serious events where Hispanic youth may be injured, in order to counsel family members.  Our officers are now on two radio stations each week and take calls from the community regarding a variety of issues in terms of laws, how the police department operates.
The radio program outreach offers free advice in Spanish on Tuesdays from 10:00-11:00 on Radio Luz 900 AM and from 11:00-12:00 on La Nueva Activa 1240 AM. Legal experts and representatives of agencies such as 211, Conexion Americas, and Nashville Conflict Resolution Center provide information and answers to callers' questions. Topics range from issues related to Driver Licenses, International Driver Licenses, traffic stops, fraud, mental health and safety concerns.  The El Protector Program hopes to add a third radio station with a younger audience by the end of the year, to discuss issues faced by younger Hispanic Nashvillians. Commander Mike Alexander says of the radio programs:
The sessions are open to callers who call in to dialogue and/or ask questions related to a variety of topics. [The radio] is a great opportunity for interaction with the El Protector Officers, to educate and learn more about the department and existing laws.
El Protector also provides car seat safety inspections, according to Alexander:
The South Precinct has been designated as the first Hispanic Car Seat Safety Inspection Site in the state of Tennessee, and our El Protector Officers (through a partnership with Meharry Medical College) conduct car seat safety inspections for families to insure that children are as safe as possible in vehicles.
Alexander is obviously proud of the national acclaim these efforts are attracting:
The program has been recognized by the Vera Institute in New York as one of the six best practices in the country as it relates to bridging the language divide. Vera began with the assessment of over 200 police departments across the country and then made on site visits to approximately 25 agencies (of which we were one) and then selected who they believed were the six best. We are currently in contention again for this recognition.
Alexander's opinion on bridging potential divides between the police and the Hispanic community is that it requires a proactive, networked approach:
We must be proactive in terms of reaching out to the community in order to build trust and partnership as we work together for a safe and peaceful Nashville.
El Protector's accolades, track record, and interactions with Music City have been documented over the years in To see those stories, click on the "El Protector" link in the Index on the right-hand side of this site.

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