Q&A with Gloria Reyes
by A. David Dahmer
Madison has a lot of great community members. But Gloria Reyes is truly a community member. Reyes is a true product of the Madison community where she was once boosted by a Centro Hispano scholarship. Today, she is adamant about giving back and helping boost other young people's hopes and dreams through her role as president of the board of directors for Centro Hispano of Dane County. And as a long-time South Madison neighborhood police officer and City of Madison police detective, Reyes uses trust-based policing and a foundation of solid relationships to do her work in the community.
Since the beginning of 2013, Reyes has been assigned to the Special Investigations Unit where she employs a new way of policing using focused deterrence that identify violent offenders in our city and notifies them that they need to stop their behavior; otherwise the police department will utilize all of its resources to prosecute them to the full extent. At the same time, Reyes also works with a community-against-violence team that offers resources that help people find employment, education, and housing to help ex-offenders integrate themselves back into our community.
On top of this, Reyes is the president of the Dane County Chapter of Latino Peace Officers Association and one of the founders of Amigos en Azul (Friends in Blue), a diverse group of officers dedicated to building trust and breaking down barriers between the police department and the Latino community and beyond.
The Madison Times caught up with the busy Gloria Reyes recently and she kindly answered some questions.
The Madison Times: Tell us about fulfilling your lifelong dream of becoming a detective that you realized not too long ago…
Gloria Reyes: I have always wanted to become a detective. As long as I can remember it was my dream and passion to work in law enforcement. However, I wasted many years listening to people who told me that I wasn't strong enough or who told me I was too little or not smart enough. You didn't see many Latinas in law enforcement, so I believed for many years that maybe they were right.
There were many people and situations that paved the way helpng me achieve my dreams. You will always have people who tell you that you can't do something but you need to listen to those who will help you and support you. That is something I tell to every young person I come in contact with.
I am one of those kids who oftentimes sat in the back of the classroom with no support. I remember I couldn't see the blackboard because my parents couldn't afford to buy me glasses, so it was so much easier to sit in the back of the room and hide rather than tell people that we were too poor. It is so much easier for teachers to pay attention to the students who are excelling and doing well, but it was challenging to find those teachers who really wanted to help me. Don't get me wrong … there were a few teachers who stepped out to help me through the years and those are the ones that I remember the most and are responsible for my success today.
I want teachers in our community to take that extra time for that student sitting in the back of the room who is struggling because you never know who that student will become someday. That student was me. I have come a long way and I would never have imagined that I would be in this position now and I'm confident in my abilities that I can move forward and do so much more.
TMT: As a neighborhood police officer on the city’s south side and as a detective now you have demonstrated the value of community-based policing and building relationships. Why is that so important in police work?
GR: A few years ago, [former Madison Police] Chief [Noble] Wray stressed to me the the importance of building relationships and trust within the community before there was a crisis. I have remembered this and followed his advice throughout my career. I first studied community policing in a class taught by Professor Herman Goldstein and I remember thinking to myself that this is the kind of policing that I believe in. We realize that solving crime and keeping our community safe goes well beyond what we can do as law enforcement and that it takes a collective effort that includes our stakeholders, residents, and our entire community to find solutions for the issues that face our community. Some of the most successful initiatives that I have been a part of was when we have our community partners at the table working to solve our community challenges.
As a neighborhood officer, I was able to meet and work with residents on the south side of Madison. This was my favorite position and important work was done there. I often come in contact with people again during an investigation or normal course of business. I find that it is much easier in seeking cooperation or assistance when you have built trust and relationships with members of our community. We have our educational resource officers, community policing teams, and safety education officers who share the same experiences and play a important role in community policing.
I feel very fortunate to work amongst great officers who truly believe in community policing and they show this every day when serving our residents in the City of Madison.
TMT:You are the president of the Dane County Chapter of the Latino Peace Officers Association and one of the founder of Amigos en Azul (Friends in Blue). Tell us a little bit about your work with those organizations
GR: The Latino Peace Officers Association-Dane County Chapter was started a couple of years ago in the attempt to bring together a group of officers who promote equality and professionalism in law enforcement. The objectives of the organization are to create a fraternal/professional association that provides its members and members of the community with career training, conferences, and workshops to promote education and career advancement, mentoring, and a strong commitment to community service. We have seen an increase in Latino police officers in Dane County and this is a great opportunity to connect with each other and serve as support for each other. We are still a new association but we hope to raise funds for scholarships for students who are interested in a career in law enforcement.
Amigos en Azul is composed of officers dedicated to dissolving cultural barriers and building trust between the City of Madison Police Department and the Latino community. We started this group in 2004 and it has expanded to include other law enforcement jurisdictions like UW Police, Fitchburg Police, and Sun Prairie Police Department who have become partners. We have come a long way in building trust and relationships with our Latino community through programs such as Spanish crimestoppers and Latino Youth Academy.
TMT:How does it feel to be president of the board of directors at Centro Hispano after being a former Centro Hispano scholarship winner back in the day?
GR:I clearly remember the night that I was an honoree receiving the Centro Hispano Scholarship Award. To me, it was much more than the financial assistance that it provided, it was being recognized by my community, business leaders, and family. It was a symbol to me that I can accomplish my dream. I made a promise to myself that when I reach my dream that I would come back and give back to the community that once helped me. Centro Hispano has been my focus and it has been my support over the years and continues to be. Each time I walk into Centro, it feels like home to me. I feel like I belong to something so much bigger then me — I belong to my community. If it were not for Centro Hispano, I would not be where I am today. Sure, I did all the hard work, but Centro began with the support of how to achieve my dream. Our families oftentimes understand the importance of an education, however, we do not understand the system's practices and the road that will help us succeed. Centro Hispano has done that for me.
TMT:Last August, Centro announced that Karen Menendez Coller would be the 8th executive director of the organization. Talk to us about why the board of directors chose her.
GR: I recall the interview with Karen and she knocked me out of my seat. Anyone who has listened to her talk about her experience and her vision can see her passion and dedication. Her research background really stuck out the most for me as we want to be able to look at the numbers we need to know as we serve an ever-growing Latino community. Karen is focused on making our families stronger and building partnerships with existing organizations and leaders to make Centro as strong as it can possibly be.
I also would like to commend our board of directors who worked very hard through the search, selection, and transition process. I feel honored serving on this board with such dedicated professionals who are just as passionate as I am in serving our community and always consider how our decisions will effect Centro Hispano and the greater community.
TMT:How has her performance been so far?
GR: Karen has transitioned well into this community and she is fostering positive relationships with our community leaders and businesses. Most importantly, she is preparing and leading our staff to help them move Centro Hispano to the next level.
TMT:What can we look for from Centro Hispano in the future?
GR: Centro Hispano will take the lead in fulfilling the needs of our community. We aim to be a place where families and our youth are welcomed. We dream of a computer lab available for students and parents, conference rooms for our leaders to meet, and a room full of books. Centro Hispano will continue to be a place where you feel a part of a community, a place where leaders are made, a place where partnerships are developed, and a place where we make dreams happen.