Improving relations |

Improving relations

Police department's 5-year plan takes aim at cultural issues

April Valencia is trying to get the word out to Spanish speakers that it’s better to view police as friends rather than enemies. But the cultural diversity coordinator with the Colorado Workforce Center said even after she explains their rights to them, some Spanish speakers don’t believe that they won’t get into trouble for contacting police.

“They just live with the fact that they can’t contact police about anything,” Valencia said. “They are so afraid of immigration laws.”

State law dictates that people cannot be asked for proof of their legal status by police without reason.

Improving relations with people in the Hispanic community has been a stated goal of the Craig Police Department since at least 2001. That theme is again echoed in the department’s 2005-2010 strategic plan that was developed recently with the help of community input. It also states the department will focus on eight other areas of policing including crime, drugs, communications, internal operations, traffic, budget, senior citizens and youths. Craig police Chief Walt Vanatta said Wednesday that focusing on cultural and youth issues will take the most work.

Craig police have stated four goals to reduce the cultural gap including recruiting minorities, having officers attend Spanish classes, providing cultural training and identifying Hispanic leaders. A goal for the city under the strategic plan includes hosting cross-cultural events. Other goals include educating the community about roles of the police department on immigration issues, helping with cross-cultural activities through the school district and providing outside training on immigration and school issues to community members.

“Ideally, it’d be nice to have to get more (Spanish speakers) into the police force,” Vanatta said.

The police department’s most recent hire is not a minority. But hiring an officer that already was a reserve saved the department about $5,000 in training costs, the police chief said.

Cpl. Bryan Gonzales and Cpl. Corey Wagner are fluent in Spanish, and three other officers have conversational Spanish skills, Vanatta said.

Officer Wagner took a two-week immersion Spanish class in a Spanish-speaking country, Vanatta said.

Vanatta said the department has access to fluent Spanish speakers from Craig’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

About 17 percent, or five police officers of the force’s 29 officers, can speak at least some Spanish.

About 10 percent of Moffat County residents, or 1,386 people, are considered Hispanic, according to the 2005-06 Yampa Valley Indicators Project.

But Shelly Spackman said it’s important that the department have officers that not only speak Spanish, but also have a Hispanic background.

Spackman was one community member who helped put together the strategic plan. She’s also the Latina Outreach coordinator for Advocates-Crises Support Services.

“I think you need more than somebody that can speak Spanish,” she said. “If they could hire somebody, I think it needs to be a bicultural, bilingual person. I think it would make their job easier.”

Spackman said there seems to be a lot more Spanish-speaking residents here than when she started two years ago with Advocates. She said a good place for police to get involved would be to attend meetings held by Comunidad Integrada, a group with a mission to bridge the cultural gap in the Yampa Valley.

Summer Laws, a member of the group, said she was happy to see the city of Craig come forth as the largest sponsor of a recent Cinco de Mayo celebration, which attracted about 200 people.

Laws said some Hispanics don’t know basic traffic regulations, and it would be beneficial for police to explain laws to members of the Hispanic population.

“I think it would be a good idea,” she said. “There are a lot of things in Mexico that they don’t enforce that they do here.”

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