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Stamford Police sergeant helps Latino community address mental health

Sergeant Adriana Molina leads the Stamford police department’s behavioral health unit which connects residents with mental health resources.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
Sergeant Adriana Molina leads the Stamford police department’s behavioral health unit which connects residents with mental health resources.

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Police Sgt. Adriana Molina says many Stamford residents call for her by name when they contact the police for help, especially for a mental health crisis.

“It's just a matter of listening to them, hearing what they've got to say, making them feel validated,” Molina said.

Molina leads the police department’s behavioral health unit, which connects residents with mental health resources. Through this role Molina has built deep and long lasting connections with the city’s Latino population, many of whom grew up distrustful of police in their home countries.

Molina grew up in Colombia and said her background has made it easier to build connections through trust and relatability. Molina said being able to reach this segment of the population has also helped break down cultural taboos about mental illness.

“I was very blessed to be able to not only speaking (the language) it, but also understanding the culture,” Molina said.

The behavioral health unit, which consists of police officers and social workers, responds to calls for people undergoing a mental health crisis.

The unit was created in 2020 in the aftermath of protests against high police brutality cases such as the death of George Floyd. Officers are trained in de-escalation techniques. Molina was soon asked to run the unit.

She said she is aware getting people help, depends on cultural practices, especially for the city’s burgeoning Latino population. They make up nearly 30% of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

She started off her police career helping Spanish speaking assault victims.

Speaking Spanish is an asset, but having a deep understanding of cultural taboos about mental illness helps a great deal, according to Molina.

“I think it's important to acknowledge that there's a culture difference and acknowledge their beliefs,” she said.

Many Latinos, according to the federal government, are less likely to access mental health services due to a combination of factors, from a lack of resources, to cultural attitudes toward mental illness.

Molina said mental illness within the Latino community is explained away much of the time as a weakness, or as a result of "brujeria," a word widely used across Latin America, meaning witchcraft.

She said she approaches mental health by praising people who can admit they’re not feeling OK.

“Getting help is not what makes you weak. It's getting the help that makes you a warrior,” she said.

Molina isn’t just a mental health advocate. Many Latinos in the city continue to interact with her due to their trust in her.

Molina showed a video to Connecticut Public that a group of local day laborers made, congratulating her on recently being awarded Stamford Citizen of the Year, becoming the first police officer, and potentially the first Latina, to be awarded.

The award, first founded in 1945, is sponsored by The Fred Robbins Post 142, and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States. It also gives out scholarships to high school students.

Jami Sherwood, a previous award winner, is now a program coordinator for the Stamford Citizen of the Year award. Sherwood said the award is given out to people who are passionate about serving their community.

“It shows in somebody especially like Sgt. Molina,” Sherwood said.