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Area law enforcement officers learn about Latino culture

By Shavonne Potts

Salisbury Post

A former police chief from Dolores Hildalgo, Mexico, spoke to local law enforcement officials Tuesday on how to bridge the cultural and communication gap between officers and the Latino community.

Benjamin Navarrete, a chief for three years and now a police academy instructor, is in the area this week and spoke with members of the Salisbury Police and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department.

Dolores Hildalgo is a small city in the Mexican state of Guanajuato.

Navarrete’s visit was prompted after he met a 10-person delegation from Rowan County with the Latino Initiative visiting Mexico in September 2006. The Latino Initiative is a program of the Center of International Understanding at the University of North Carolina. The program aims to provide leaders in the community a deeper understanding of issues affecting the Latino community.

In his talk Tuesday, Navarrete discussed strategies that he said would help officers better understand the Latino culture.

He first discussed the distrust Latinos feel toward law enforcement.

“Seventy percent of Hispanics have been victimized,” Navarrete said.

This victimization doesn’t make Latinos more forthcoming with information that could possibly help an investigation. He said it’s not just a problem in the United States, it’s also a problem in Mexican cities.

One Salisbury Police officer asked Navarrete for suggestions on how to open the lines of communication, possibly through a forum.

Navarrete said one way is to create a pamphlet translated into Spanish that explains local laws. Navarrete said Latinos are more likely to read the pamphlet if it’s in Spanish.

A program that targets Latinas would also ease communication. He reasons that the women are the ones who know what is going on in their homes and are willing to pass on useful information to their husbands, fathers and brothers.

Another suggestion, Navarrete said, is for an officer to address a Latino person by his or her first name. He said that in the United States, officers use “Sir” or “Ma’am,” but remembering to use the person’s first name shows a sense of familiarity and an association of friendship.

Salisbury Police Chief Mark Wilhelm said the suggestions were helpful, especially addressing a Latino person by his or her first name.

Navarrete discussed alcohol abuse among Hispanics and how it is one of a small list of contributors to crimes such as driving under the influence. He said in some cities there are liquor stores on just about every corner. Also there are federal programs working to control the sale of alcohol.

Driving while impaired is also a criminal offense in Mexico, Navarrete said, but the penalties aren’t as stiff as they are in the United States. The bond amounts are smaller, some around $200, and the amount of time an offender spends in jail is shorter.

Navarrete said the problems of finding money to fund projects with Mexican departments are similar to those experienced by police departments in the United States. The amount of money the government provides is decreasing, as is the case with the United States.

Navarrete will talk with members of the Kannapolis Police Department today, Concord and Cabarrus officers on Thursday, and Union County officers Friday. He returns to Mexico Saturday.

Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts@salisburypost.com.

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