0

Police forge connection at Gwinnett Multicultural Festival

Linda Ayala snaps a photo of her children Mariana, 3, and Leonel, 6, with Gwinnett Police Aviation Manager Lou Gregoire in front of the department helicopter, at the Gwinnett Multicultural Festival Saturday. (Staff Photo: Camie Young)

Linda Ayala snaps a photo of her children Mariana, 3, and Leonel, 6, with Gwinnett Police Aviation Manager Lou Gregoire in front of the department helicopter, at the Gwinnett Multicultural Festival Saturday. (Staff Photo: Camie Young)

photo

Hernan Mejia poses with 8-month-old daughter Ana in a Gwinnett SWAT vehicle, while family members snap photos Saturday, at the Gwinnett Multicultural Festival. (Staff photo: Camie Young)

photo

Dancers perform at the Gwinnett Multicultural Festival Saturday. (Staff photo: Camie Young)

photo

Edgardo Gonzalez, 12, poses on a police motorcycle Saturday at the Gwinnett Multicultural Festival. (Staff photo: Camie Young)

Leonel Ayala, 6, was more than happy to smile for a picture in front of a police helicopter.

And when Gwinnett Police Aviation Manager Lou Gregoire bent his knees to pose closer to the child, Leonel’s arms slipped around his neck.

“I want to be a police officer,” the boy said, giving a squeeze.

Mother Linda couldn’t be prouder, as she snapped the shot of the boy and his sister Mariana, 3.

At Gwinnett’s first-ever Multicultural Festival, the Norcross woman said she was glad that her children were seeing the police in a positive light, and having some fun too.

“It’s bueno,” Linda Ayala said. “It’s good for the relations with people.”

Ana Mejia said many of her friends and neighbors have a hard time trusting police. But she believes that the men and women in blue are “our friends.”

“We know it is a benefit to us,” she said, taking a photo while her husband Hernan poses with their 8-month-old daughter in a SWAT vehicle. “We have to communicate with the police.”

The message is just what officials were hoping to impart at the festival, held Saturday at the North Atlanta Trade Center in Norcross.

With booths devoted not just to Hispanic but also Asian services, demonstrations of police K-9s and motorcycles and entertainment, including folk dances from nine different countries, the afternoon was meant to build connections and trust, said Gwinnett Police Assistant Chief Brett West.

“We want (people) to see we are out here for everyone,” West said, adding that in some parts of the world, police corruption has lead to people avoiding any interaction with police, even if they are victimized.

“We’re trying to build that bridge, that connection,” West said. “We are a diverse community. … We want them to trust us.”

Just as much as the bouncy houses attract the kids, the cool gear, like the police helicopter and mobile command center, interest adults, freeing them to ask questions and interact with the officers, West said.

Edgardo Gonzalez, 12, liked to sit on the police motorcycle.

“He’s really interested,” said his mom Ada Torres, who brought her kids to have the baby’s car seat checked.

“It has been fantastic,” Torres said, adding that the experience is enough to keep her 12-year-old twins from being intimidated by the officers and instead seek them out when they need help. “I think at this age it gives them more security, so they aren’t afraid.”

Ana Mejia said she wants to take the inclusive message back to her neighbors, so she grabbed some fliers.

“They have it in English and Spanish, so that is good for us,” Mejia said. “We like it.”