Despite growing accusations of militarized police forces around the country, the Corvallis Police Department is taking a friendlier, more proactive approach to interacting with the Latino community. CPD Lieutenant Daniel Duncan, a 17-year veteran with the force, says that CPD aims to reach out rather than take a hard line against community members, whether they are law-breakers or not.
Lt. Duncan explains the department puzzled, “How do we break down barriers?”
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Events like Coffee with a Cop, drug take backs, and potential videos that explain police protocol in Spanish, are all ways that CPD opens up lines of communication between the police and the community. Because the CPD is focused on improving relations with the Latino community specifically, Chief Jon Sassaman has made it a point to hire Latino or Spanish-speaking officers.
Within the Latino community, there is often worry that local police will report undocumented residents to federal authorities and break up families in the process. Whether they are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, or they are witness to a crime, fear of deportation is a reality for many Latinos living in this country. That fear is something that can also have negative impacts on law enforcement, such as preventing witnesses coming forward with critical information.
Chief Sassaman has made it clear that CPD is not in the business of enforcing immigration law, nor do they have that jurisdiction based on state law. “We aren’t going to be investigating on immigration status solely,” says Lt. Duncan.
Lt. Duncan says that CPD works often with Spanish-speaking and Latino-born staff members at the Benton County Health Department, as well as hosting their signature Coffee with a Cop events at Latino bakeries or other Latino-owned businesses. That approach, CPD thinks will build a level of trust between the police and Latino community.
There is also talk of potentially creating videos in partnership with Benton County and local non-profits, produced to create awareness in the Latino community. The video, translated in Spanish, would explain CPD protocol, provide general information, and also reiterate the department’s commitment to openness and remaining an inclusive community. The video is still in the conceptual phase, but could be another key tool in bridging gaps between CPD and the Latino community.
By Chris McDowell