Latino SAFE renewed, changes staff and focus

The Latino SAFE crime-prevention program received renewed funding for two years but will change personnel and shift strategy.

The program is designed to dispel misimpressions of American police and make Latino residents more active in crime-prevention and safety initiatives. Latino SAFE conducts workshops and the Citizens Academy -- a course held for Latino community members learn about police and vice versa.

Program founder Sgt. Giovanni Veliz, originally from Ecuador, designed the program in 1999, but it wasn't until two years ago that state and federal funds allowed the program to start.

The state recently renewed its $180,000 grant; Tricia Hummel, acting planning director for the state's Office of Drug Policy and Violence Prevention, said she's pleased with the program's progress.

The program will continue without Veliz, who was recently transferred from the program to serve as new Police Chief William McManus's assistant.

Because Veliz's partner, Crime-Prevention Specialist Angel Morales, originally from Mexico, left the civilian position on their team, Crime-Prevention Specialist John Reed will run Latino SAFE.

A non-Latino who speaks Spanish, Reed will be Latino SAFE's sole staffer.

Reed said the program's next phase would focus on more ways to communicate with Latinos not reached in SAFE's first two years.

He said the program would spread police information through block club training, with block club leaders as liaisons between the community and police. The Citizens Academy will continue, although Reed said he hopes more police personnel will get involved.

For more information about Latino SAFE and events, call Reed at 673-5579.