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Vail Daily column: Local grad committed to keeping her community safe

Norma Camunez has been involved with the Police Explorers program since her junior year in high school.
Special to the Daily |

Given recent tragedies including local drunk driving fatalities and a suicide that has rocked the nation, it might not come as a surprise that some young people are more motivated than ever to make a positive difference by keeping neighbors and loved ones safe. Yet it’s an incredible inspiration to grasp the story of a young local woman who decided at the age of 16 to commit her life to building trust and ensuring safety in her community through law enforcement.

Battle Mountain graduate Norma Camunez was headed down a gray path when a productive encounter with her school resource officer, Eagle County Sheriff Deputy Megan Richards, known as “Officer Megan” by her students, encouraged a complete refocus. Camunez recalls Richard’s influence in the community helping to win over several young people who previously had bad experiences with the police and were not necessarily on track to graduate high school.

POLICE EXPLORERS PROGRAM

Thanks in large part to Richards’ encouragement, Camunez has been involved with the Police Explorers program since her junior year of high school. Police Explorers is a collaborative between local law enforcement entities designed to bridge gaps between young people and the police.

“Camunez was one of the first leaders in the program and leveraged her involvement to help the program grow,” said Vail Police Cmdr. Daric Harvey.

It hasn’t always been easy. Camunez speaks of defiance from her family and peers when she initially expressed interest in working with law enforcement and the struggle of finding friends who like to have a good time without alcohol.

At events ranging from Wild West Days to National Night Out and Camp 911, Camunez is working hand in hand with community leaders to strengthen the bond specifically between the Latino community in Eagle County and the police. She beams in recalling her experiences with local youth.

‘CRITICAL TO BUILD TRUST’

“I really enjoy talking to local kids and promoting safety; helping to make sure they are comfortable around cops,” Camunez said. “It is critical to build trust so that people feel comfortable reaching out to law enforcement when they need help.”

Her involvement in the Police Explorers program has helped tremendously with youth as well as adults in the Latino community, a population that many law enforcement entities have traditionally struggled to engage.

While Richards has had a critical impact on the life path of Camunez, Richards recognizes the unique and significant influence this young lady has had on the greater community.

“I’ve watched Norma grow from a carefree high school student to a hardworking, dedicated, community-minded young woman with dreams of becoming a law enforcement officer so she can use that knowledge to make a positive impact in our community,” Richards said. “She’s been an invaluable resource, always willing to volunteer her time to make a difference.”

ON TO THE POLICE ACADEMY

What’s next for Camunez?

“Ever since sophomore year, I have been motivated to become a cop,” she said.

Camunez has been particularly impacted by the ride-alongs and interested in becoming a detective so that she can work undercover to help keep the community safe.

“I am preparing now for the Police Academy, which I can join when I am 21. Only about one more year to go,” she said with a grin.

Michelle Stecher is the executive director of the Eagle River Youth Coalition, a local nonprofit that offers collaborative prevention programs and services. The Youth Leaders Council is a program of the Eagle River Youth Coalition. In addition to Youth Leaders Council, Eagle River Youth Coalition offers various levels of parenting education and trainings for community members. For more information, call 970-949-9250 or visit http://www.eagleyouth.org.


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