Building bridges to the Hispanic community
Monroe is a diverse city whose residents come from several different cultures. The Hispanic community in particular is growing, and it has been challenging for the city, including the police department, to build relationships and communicate with them.
The police department has several Spanish-speaking officers who hail from Mexico and Puerto Rico, and we depend on them to translate and be our liaison to the Hispanic community — no short order, since people from different parts of Latin America can sometimes talk as differently and sound as strange to each other as some Northerners do to Southerners (and visa versa).
Officer Linda Alvarado has been working closely with the U.S. Christian Chaplains Association, a service agency at 1390 Walkup Avenue but with branches in Charlotte and beyond. Under the direction of Chaplain Isaias Perez, the organization provides English and computer classes to Hispanic residents, as well as classes on domestic violence and N.C. law. They even provide free HIV testing and a food bank to help those in need.
Last Saturday, the police department was invited to a breakfast sponsored by the Association. I, along with about 20 MPD officers and Mayor Bobby Kilgore, showed up at 6 a.m. at the Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal Church on Icemorelee Street.
As we walked in the front door of the church, we were escorted by Pastor Marta Vera to a large dining room that was decorated with blue and white balloons. There, we were met by pastors from several Hispanic churches in Union and Mecklenburg counties, as well as many church members.
Translators explained to the officers how appreciative the Hispanic community is of all they do to keep them safe and to assist them in their time of need.
Officers Vance Boitnott, Morgan Haulk and Chad Shoultes were honored by the association for the kindness and generosity they showed recently to one Hispanic family. The three went to Walmart in December 2011 and bought gifts for a family whose home was burglarized and their Christmas gifts stolen.
Chaplain Perez also wanted to honor Officer Alvarado for her service to the organization and the help she provides to bridge the gap between Hispanics and law enforcement. It was explained that while officers enforce the law, they also have a heart and can provide help in times of need.
After being served a nice breakfast, several speakers spoke about the importance of building relationships with the community and how we must work together. Translators spoke to the residents about doing what is right as well as asking the officers for their help in educating them about what we do.
If we want to be successful as a police department and as a city, we must build relationships with all segments of the community, not just those who look like us or who we feel comfortable around.
Our society is rapidly changing, we all must work together or there will be serious problems ahead. Our friends at the U.S. Christian Chaplains Association and the Hispanic churches reminded us of how important these relationships are, and their efforts won’t be forgotten by the officers.
Debra Duncan is police chief of the City of Monroe.