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LA PRENSA SALES: COLUMBUS 614-571-2051 July/julio 25, 2008
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KC police program reaches out to Latinos
By ANDALE GROSS, Associated Press Writer
KANSAS CITY, July 17, 2008 (AP): While depart- ments across the country are making undocumented immigrant arrests a larger part of their daily duties, police in Kansas City are leaving the citizenship busts to federal agents and focusing instead on com- munity policing efforts in the city’s growing Latino communities.
The Kansas City Police Department is doing it by expanding its Spanish im- mersion program, created last year to soften its repu- tation in the city’s Latino communities. Through hands-on time in the com- munity, officers learn Spanish, volunteer at neigh- borhood schools, focus on Hispanic culture and inter- act with community lead- ers.
“I think it’s one of the most important things I’ve done since being with the department,” said Megan Laffoon, an officer for nearly three years and one of the first to finish the department’s Spanish lan- guage and culture program. “I don’t think you can fully serve a community if you can’t speak their lan-
The program is in just its second year, and hard evi- dence of its effect remains largely anecdotal. But ad- vocates cite numerous ex- amples in which the emerg- ing trust between Latinos and police has helped with investigations.
Laffoon recalls putting her skills to work late last year when she heard a call on her police radio about a Latino man who had been shot. She rushed to the scene to help other officers interpret what the victim was saying. The man calmed enough to describe the suspects, who were ar- rested blocks away.
“Essentially, all people care about are their fami- lies and where they live, and they want to make it a safer place,” said Chato Villalobos, an officer who has helped shape the Span- ish immersion program. “And we have to develop that trust.”
Kansas City’s program appears to be thriving at a time when law enforcers in states such as California and Arizona are trying to help the Department of Homeland Security find
undocumented immigrants and hand them over for deportation.
Earlier this month, 10 troopers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol com- pleted special immigration training that allows them to start enforcing federal immigration laws in the state. Six troopers—two each from Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis— will be used to speed up processing after traffic stops, and the other four will be assigned to casinos in Kansas City and St. Louis.
In KC, officers are ea- ger to coexist, rather than confront, Latinos.
Latinos made up 8.7 percent of Kansas City’s 432,773 residents in 2006, according to the most re- cent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. They made up 6.9 percent of the city’s population in 2000.
Nearly 4 percent of the city’s police officers are Latino, but not all are Span- ish-speaking and the de- partment has struggled to recruit officers who can speak the language.
About 2 percent of the
department’s 1,429 total officers are proficient enough in Spanish to re- ceive bilingual pay, accord- ing to police records.
About 40 officers can now speak at least some Spanish because of the im- mersion program, which the department funds. Of- ficer Lynda Hacker, the pro- gram coordinator, said that during the first year in 2007, it focused just on officers learning the language. This year, the 10-week program expanded, putting officers in the community for more days at a time to absorb the culture and interact with residents.
Clashes between Latinos and Kansas City police have often been cultural. Latino immigrants used to be la- beled as uncooperative for not looking police in the eye, but in some cultures it’s disrespectful to make direct eye contact with au- thority figures. Latinos were often busted for drink- ing openly in public, which is allowed in their home countries but will get them arrested on U.S. streets.
Villalobos, an officer for nine years and a product of Kansas City’s Latino neigh- borhoods, said he grew up
not liking cops.
Cops working to improve trust
By The Associated Press
POLICING VS. ENFORCEMENT: More police de- partments are trying to decide whether to emphasize community policing or immigration enforcement as the numbers of Latinos increase in their cities.
OFFICERS UNDER PRESSURE: The National Council of La Raza says officers are under political pressure to crack down on immigrants and check their status. They say more community policing efforts are needed.
HISTORY OF MISTRUST: Perceived harassment stemming from undocumented immigration crack- downs has strained relations between police and Latinos. Some misunderstandings are tied to cultural differences. Some immigrants mistrust police in their home countries, and that carries over into their per- ceptions of police in the U.S.
learned,” said the 36-year- old Mexican-American, who was 3 when his un- documented immigrant parents moved the family from Los Angeles to Kan- sas City.
Now, he’s proud to be- long to a movement built around strengthening po- lice and Latino community relations.
Dressed casually with his badge clipped to his jeans, he easily fits in at the community center where he and another officer share a police office. Groups of Latino men gather outside the center most mornings waiting for prospective
employers to pull up in their trucks.
The day laborers used to congregate in a nearby li- quor store parking lot. But residents complained about public drunkenness, and some workers were being robbed by people posing as laborers.
“We maintain order, but they’ve learned to self-po- lice,” Villalobos said of the arrangement that the work- ers and officers have now. “They realize they have the power to dictate whether they’re going to be victim- ized.
“They become like deputies for us.”
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