A Police Department In California Is Suiting Up Its Officers In Charro Uniforms
With efforts to better connect with it’s largely Latino community, the Salinas Police Department is trying on a new look in the form of a charro suit. Robert Hernandez was one of several police officers that donned the traditional Mexican outfit at the California Rodeo Salinas back on July 16-19. But if Salinas police are looking for any signs that the outfits were a success, their Facebook page has since been flooded with community support and appreciation for the gesture.
The charro outfits represent pride, tradition, and chivalry in Mexican culture. So for many in the Latino community, the suit went a long way in bridging a relationship with local law enforcement.
This is the first year that police officers wore the charro outfit and helped patrol the rodeo, which is the largest event in the mostly agricultural city. Police Chief Adele Fresé said that by having officers put on the charro suit she hopes many in the community see themselves when they interact with authorities.
These efforts are emboldened by recent tensions between police and communities of color across the United States and President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Salinas, where more than three-quarters of residents are Latino, has had its share of tensions between residents and police. Back in 2014, major demonstrations erupted when police shot and killed four Latino men. All of the officers involved in the incident would eventually be cleared of any crime. The shootings proved to be a sour moment between community and police officers as many pointed to the case as an example of the excessive force and prejudice in the department.
“We’re going to recognize, by wearing this charro suit, we’re validating our community’s heritage and culture,” Fresé told the Californian. And we’re going to demonstrate that we value the rich history of the people we’re sworn to protect and serve.”
One officer wasn’t too sure how to feel about putting on the outfit at first. But after seeing a positive reaction from the community, he knew it was the right choice.
When Officer Hernandez’s parents went to see their son on duty at the rodeo, they were shocked. He didn’t have his usual black police outfit on and a giant sombrero had replaced his regular cap. Hernandez’s parents were in tears after seeing him in the charro outfit.
“When they came here, that was for me and my siblings to have a better future and have a better success than they were in Mexico,” Hernandez told the Californian in regards to his parents. “For me to represent that, it was an honor not only for them but me as well.”
But for Hernandez, donning the traditional outfit wasn’t an easy choice. He told the LA Times he was a bit worried at first at what some people’s reaction might be to the new look.
“I’m not going to lie, I was nervous,” Hernandez said about putting the charro outfit on at the rodeo. “We didn’t want to offend anybody.”
When he saw men, women, and children lining up to take photos with him, he knew how special the gesture meant to the community. Hernandez also realized that many community members aren’t able to return to their birthplaces and families because of their legal status. So the charro outfit in many ways reminded them of home.
“Our main goal is to get involved and build a relationship with the community,” Hernandez said. “This is so they feel right at home more finally, and go right from there.”
The Salinas Police Department already has plans to have officers don the outfit at another event in September.
With the positive reaction the police department has received in the community and on social media, there is plans to bring back the charro suit in September. Hernandez is expected to wear the blue outfit once more at a Mexican Independence Day event called “El Grito” on Sept 16.
While the charro suit was donated to Salinas resident Ricky Cabrera’s late father, Alfonso, who was a charro himself, the department plans to return it. The plan is to hopefully receive donations for two new outfits, one for both male and female officers for next year’s rodeo.
The police department feels that the outfit is the first step in the right direction when it comes to rebuilding community trust. Fresé hopes people see these efforts for what they are and can start a longer conversation between police and local residents.
“Pretty much most of my life has been in the Hispanic community, and I have a good grasp of our culture and what people appreciate,” Fresé told the LA Times. “I do believe there’s a hunger for validation. I hoped the community would understand this is not a novelty.”