Latino Neighbors Voice Concerns when Reporting Crimes

By: Estephany Escobar Email
By: Estephany Escobar Email

The Harrisonburg Police Department is considering applying for a grant to create a better rapport with the Latino community in the city.

The $580,000 grant would be used to survey people in Latino neighborhoods about their quality of life and their perception of police.

It would also allocate funds for a bilingual community resource officer and additional staff to address the issues specific to the city's Latino community.

In addition, officers would receive Spanish courses to be able to communicate better with the Latino population.

According to the grant proposal, HPD responded to 35,314 calls for service in 2012. Out of those calls, only 1,469 came from the neighborhoods the program would target. That is only 4.2 percent, which local community groups said is drastically below the number of situations where police are needed.

Police Chief Stephen Monticello said they want to increase the number of neighbors who report crimes in Latino communities.

"Many times people won't report crimes because they're fearful of how police will react and they have the feeling that even being a victim they could be arrested," said Monticelli.

Aureliano Vazquez Murillo who lives in one of the targeted neighborhoods said he has reported vandalism before but the police didn't respond quick enough.

"Sometimes we say that they don't pay attention to us because we are Latinos or we don't speak English," said Vazquez Murillo.

Monticelli said the staff at the Emergency Communication Center usually prioritizes the calls and send officers to high-priority calls first. Vandalism is considered a lower priority , according to Monticelli.

He also said officers would respond regardless of the language a neighbor speaks. Monticelli said they can send interpreters to the scene, if necessary.

Emma Nuevo Ramirez said some neighbors' concerns stem from fear of repercussion.

"When you call police, the police officer goes to the house the call came from so then the fear is that your neighbor realizes it was you and they may do something against you," Nuevo Ramirez said.

Monticelli said officers can call someone reporting a crime or meet them elsewhere, if it helps them feel safer.

However, both neighbors agree they would feel better if they had a police officer patrolling the neighborhood.

"If we knew him, it would be safer," said Nuevo Ramirez.

She said people may fear contacting police because if they are in the country illegally, they may fear the officer will tell authorities about their immigration status.

Monticelli said if a person reports a crime or is victim of a crime, the officer will not report their immigration status. The only time that information is reported is if a person is a suspect of a crime.

According to the grant proposal, HPD said Latinos also fear contacting police because in their birth countries police corruption is high.

HPD will find out if the department received the grant March 8.

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