Amigos En Azul (AEA) is a police fraternal organization within the Austin, Texas, police department (APD) and was formed to act as a community liaison between APD and Austin’s Hispanic communities, to recruit Hispanic police officers, and to promote equitable treatment of Hispanic officers at APD. The organization’s motto is “Dedicated to a better community.”
The group was established in 1982 by APD officers Alvaro Hernandez, Joe Maciel, Billy Sifuentes, Mel Villanueva, and Roger Sanchez, who saw the need to improve their department’s image and working relationship with the Hispanic community and its own Hispanic police officers. It was chartered in 1984 as a not-for-profit organization. From the group’s founding in 1982 through 2015, eleven presidents had led Amigos En Azul—beginning with Alvaro Hernandez and including one female, Rita Delgado. Originally, membership was limited to APD officers who self-identified as Hispanic. Later, membership opened to APD officers regardless of ethnicity. From five officers, the organization grew to several hundred members by the end of the twentieth century.
As one of its first challenges, AEA struggled get its correct name on its bank account. A local credit union representative unilaterally put “Friends in Blue” on the organization’s bank account and claimed that bank policy forbid use of foreign terms in account names. AEA leaders soon persuaded the bank’s management to accept “Amigos En Azul” as the account name.
AEA’s organization charter described its key goals as: enhancing the “proper image of law enforcement within the Hispanic community”; developing formal and informal lines of communication with the Hispanic community; recruiting Hispanic officers; and promoting equitable treatment of Hispanic officers by APD. To achieve these goals, the organization has focused on mentoring students in the Austin Independent School District (AISD); participating in community events, such as parades and festivals; providing college scholarships; and sponsoring youth leadership seminars and job fairs. AEA holds social events, fundraisers, and scholarships. From a single $200 college scholarship, the organization’s scholarship project grew to six $1,000 scholarships annually and had awarded more than $100,000 to students by 2020. AEA also provides funds to surviving relatives of deceased members.
In addition to mentoring AISD students, AEAs community outreach efforts have included sponsoring a Boy Scout troop in an underprivileged area, participating in community pride events, and the “Shop with a Cop” event, which pairs officers with underprivileged children who are allowed to select Christmas gifts from a local store. Another AEA project provided holiday meals for needy families. The organization also sponsored an anti-drunk driving education campaign called “Corazon Azul” which targeted Hispanics and participated in a gun exchange program.
In part because of AEA’s recruitment efforts, the number of Hispanics in APD’s workforce increased to 21 percent as of 2012. AEA’s advocacy for equitable treatment of Hispanics within APD also helped Hispanic officers rise into APD’s upper management. In 1992 no Hispanic officer ranked above captain. By the late 1990s, two Hispanics had served as assistant chiefs (the highest rank below chief of police), and several others had reached the rank of commander. In 2007 Austin’s city council appointed the first Hispanic chief of police, Art Acevedo.
AEA lobbied to improve working conditions for Hispanic and other bilingual officers by convincing APD to pay a stipend to bilingual officers who pass an oral proficiency examination in the relevant language. APD adopted this policy in 1994. AEA also supported putting Hispanic officers into jobs involving public outreach. In 2007, a Hispanic officer became APD’s first bilingual public information officer. Prior to that time the department routinely called upon the AEA president to translate department information into Spanish.
In 1994 the American G.I. Forum presented AEA with its Organization of the Year Award for “outstanding and meritorious service to the Hispanic community of Austin.” AEA members have played a prominent part in Austin’s Sister City Program with Saltillo, Mexico, which fosters understanding between the cities’ law enforcement groups.
AEA’s membership overlaps with that of APD’s other fraternal organizations and the official police bargaining agent, the Austin Police Association. These groups often collaborate both in community events and in labor matters. Since incorporation, AEA has been affiliated with several national organizations, including the National Latino Police Officers Association, the Texas Hispanic Police Officers Association, and the Coalition of Hispanic American Police Associations. Other police departments have adopted the concept and, in some cases, the name “Amigos En Azul.”