Former police chief here to learn, teach Navarrete hopes to share insight into Latino culture, take experience back to Mexico

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

A former chief of police in Dolores Hildalgo, Mexico, began a busy two days in Rowan County Monday, trying to give law enforcement here a better understanding of the Latino culture.

Benjamin Arturo Navarrete Ruiseco attended the 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Breakfast, had lunch with Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, spent time on patrol with Police Officer T.A. Bautista, rode in the King Parade with Police Chief Mark Wilhelm and attended a City Hall reception in his honor.

Today, he planned to attend two middle schools and split his time between the Salisbury Police Department and Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

Navarrete said he and his law enforcement counterparts here agree that working in public safety is a task that involves everyone — citizens, the police and government.

A chief for three years and now a police academy instructor, Navarrete recalled being asked by a reporter how many police officers would be enough in his city of 130,000.

He answered that he would love to live in a city where there was no need for police officers — a place where 130,000 people looked out for each other.

Navarrete, 32, said he was thrilled and honored to be in North Carolina, adding it would be “very rewarding” what he takes from his weeklong visits with officers here.

He hoped, Navarrete said, that he also could leave some valuable information with his hosts about the Mexican culture.

Navarrete will be with the Kannapolis Police Department Wednesday, Concord and Cabarrus law enforcement Thursday and Union County officers Friday before leaving for Mexico Saturday.

Navarrete’s visit results from a trip taken to Mexico in September 2006 by a “Latino Initiative” from the three counties, which included a 10-person delegation from Rowan.

The three counties — Rowan, Cabarrus and Union — have some of the fastest growing immigration rates in the country. The Latino Initiative is a program of the Center for International Understanding at the University of North Carolina and aims at providing community leaders with a deeper understanding of cultural, political, social and economic issues affecting the Latino community.

The September group visited Mexico City and Guanajuato, the state where Dolores Hidalgo is located and how the delegation met Navarrete.

Kluttz, the Salisbury mayor, said she especially wanted Navarrete’s visit to coincide with the King Day breakfast. “I really wanted him to experience this morning,” she said. “To feel the love in that room, I just thought that would be a good, positive way for him to start his visit.”

Navarrete told the Post the breakfast made it a special day for him.

The breakfast showed how a community can come together and reach its goals with a great variety of people, he said.

Guanajuato is an area from which many of this region’s immigrants have come.

Navarrete said the migration began because of jobs, but he fears now that because role models — grandparents and parents — have traveled back and forth between Mexico and the United States for so long, it has become an expected course of action in many families, he said.

His country is proud of its immigrants to the United States, Navarrete said, but it’s not proud of the economic or safety problems in Mexico that make them immigrants.

At Monday evening’s City Hall reception, Kluttz presented Navarrete with a key to the city.

His visit to the Salisbury started with a dinner Sunday night with the mayor at Cartucci’s.

Kluttz said she thought Navarrete’s visits to the middle schools will be “a very positive experience” for Hispanic students to see a highly respected person from their country and state.

“I think it’s important for them to see that,” she said.

Kluttz also was excited by the response of the three police chiefs and three sheriffs who are acting as sponsors for Navarrete’s visit. The law enforcement officers on the September trip saw how important it would be to have his input in their departments Kluttz added.

In Mexico, police took them to a village accessible only by the officers’ pickups. Kluttz said most of the village’s population was women and children because the men had migrated to the United States to work.

Kluttz said Navarrete strikes her as a law enforcement officer who wants to change the perception that the police in Mexico are corrupt. He has his own vision of community policing, she said, and will have great insights for officers here on how to work with the Latino population.

Bautista, the Salisbury officer with whom Navarrete spent some time Monday, said the visitor was especially interested with his patrol car.

Wilhelm said Navarrete’s officers in Dolores Hidalgo relied on pickups — Silverados, Dodge Rams and F-250s — because of the rough terrain.

Kluttz said the Latino Initiative members learned a lot during their week in Mexico, and she described it as a trip everyone in Rowan County should take.

Members of the Rowan delegation included Kluttz; Rowan County Commissioner Jim Sides; Ruth Chaparro, the city’s multi-cultural director; Yvonne Dixon, diversity director for Rowan Regional Medical Center; Scott Flowers, a Rowan County deputy; Kyna Foster, Food Lion’s manager of community affairs; Cheryl Marsh, a dean at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College; Lillian Morgan of Rowan-Salisbury Schools; Norma Torres, a nurse educator at the Hefner VA Medical Center; and Nancy Wyrick, a vice president with F&M Bank.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or