“Cultivating Community Conversations” brings the police and Hispanic residents together

Published 12:06 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

SALISBURY — Some of the most impactful moments can start from a simple conversation. On April 23 at the City Park recreation facility, the Salisbury Police Department hosted another installment in its “Cultivating Community Conversations” series where officers meet with residents to grow relationships and to paint a better picture of what law enforcement is really like. 

“We understand that there is a sentiment sometimes of fear that exists and we’re trying to bridge that gap today and make sure everybody knows that we’re here for them and hopefully to dispel rumor, myth, all those things, by allowing them to engage one-on-one with our police officers,” Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Anne Little said.

Though this particular conversation session was open to anyone, it was centered on having people of Latino descent come to give their perspective on a vast array of topics that they deal with on a regular basis. Besides the police, city staff and representatives from other departments were there to provide information related to Salisbury and Rowan County. 

“What we try to do with these conversations is build trust, understanding of our department, and how we can help,” Police Chief Patrick “P.J.” Smith said. “We’re people just like they are, we’re here to help, and it’s OK for them to call and ask us for help.”

Smith said he was enlightened by the discussions he had. He even answered a few questions that didn’t have much to do about the police, but rather about codes and planning. 

“It really did not do good just for the police department, it got a lot of understanding for other departments as well and proper people to get in touch with,” Smith said. “I think a lot of good came from tonight and I’m really pleased. I think this is just the beginning of something that’s going to be bigger.”

Victor Vasquez was one of the officers who attended the “Cultivating Community Conversations” session. He spoke with numerous people and he said he was glad that he could shed some light on the fact that there’s officers in the police department that members of the public can relate to. 

“Sometimes there’s a language barrier and they feel like they can’t speak up and them knowing that there’s an officer that can understand what they’re saying and to be able to help them, it’s very good for them,” Vasquez said. 

Bertha Flores is a teacher with the Rowan-Salisbury School System who participates in many types of gatherings to educate herself and her students to what’s going on at a local level. For her, the talks she had will lead her to getting a better grasp of the place she calls home. 

“They’re very interesting, they have a lot of things we didn’t know about. We did learn there’s about nine police officers that potentially speak Spanish that we can reach out to, events that they do. I did talk to another officer that was talking about gun control. They have a lot of things that we did not know about because they’re not broadcasted throughout Rowan County,” Flores said. 

One of the things Flores valued about the “Cultivating Community Conversations” was the friendly atmosphere and how that caused much of the dialogue to take shape. 

“It’s making it to where you don’t have to fear asking certain questions. We also learned from the officer that they really can’t ask you what your citizenship is. It makes it more comfortable to come in and ask any type of questions you might have,” Flores said.