Hispanic Community Better Communication
Topics were divided into four general areas and Chief Lanier graciously and generously gave of her time to provide valuable and, at times, new information and patiently answered questions from the assembled group. The 90 minute event began with an explanation of the Secure Communities program which has now been put into place and is at full force since June 5, 2012. Ms. Lanier reiterated the stated position of the Department and city government that DC police officers do not collaborate with immigration officials or otherwise target or profile Latino residents who interact with police officers on routine traffic stops or minor violations. She pointed out that for offenses which the department requires no finger prints suspects are not forwarded to the national Homeland Security database network. She also reiterated MPD policy which does not allow officers to ask for immigration status when approaching residents for information or investigation of a crime. She defended her Department’s efforts at reaching out to the Latino community and praised the work of Sgt. Mejias at the head of the Latino Liaison Unit which now has 51 active members on the force. The suggestion was made at the meeting that we invite those responsible at immigration enforcement (ICE) here in the District to meet with the Saturday group. Comments were made that ICE is fulfilling a quota and has recently taken people off the street here in DC. The Office on Latino Affairs cited 7 cases of such evidence in the past two weeks and Telemundo and other Hispanic media have been reporting on this.
A discussion ensued on the high incidence of Latino crime victims and ‘hot spots’ where thefts, assaults and other assorted criminal activities prey on high concentrations of Hispanic victims. A geographic sector of concern to MPD is the area around 7th and Kennedy in the Brightwood neighborhood where various Latino crime victims have been recorded around the popular ‘Taqueria D.F.’ restaurant and other spots in that neighborhood. Chief Lanier brought with her statistics over the past year demonstrating that the most prevalent crime against Hispanics is robbery. Latino victims account for over 10% of robbery victims in DC and over 5% of theft and theft from auto. Sexual abuse victims represented over 8% of the city total this past year.
Maria Ester Caceres, a reporter with El Zol radio pointed out the difficulty of many Hispanic media outlets in receiving timely, precise and basic materials from MPD on breaking stories of interest and even the simplest information of street closings, accidents or identification of detainees. The Chief was pleased to report the hiring of two new Public Information Officers who should begin soon and are tasked with improving communication with Spanish language and other ethnic media. Complaints about slow and incomplete responses to Latino media inquiries by MPD are common and longstanding. Therefore, Chief Lanier’s announcement of the hiring of two professionals to deal with this issue was received with surprise and renewed expectations.
The group suggested creating new business outreach opportunities for MPD with small Latino retail business owners and the Chief added it would be good if Latino leaders took the time to accompany officers on ‘ride alongs’ and acted as interlocutors for police. Patrick Mara, State Board of Education representative for Ward 1 in attendance at the meeting was apparently having some difficulty scheduling a truancy ride along and asked the Chief if he could schedule one. Lanier cited the protection of juvenile identities as one possible hold up, but assured Mr. Mara she would look into the possibility. Finally Maria Patricia Corrales queried the Chief on security issues with Fiesta DC and the troubles DC’s oldest and largest ethnic festival is having with the city. When asked about the police budget for these types of events, Jackie Reyes from Councilman Graham’s office remarked that Councilwoman Bowser is working on adding money to the MPD budget for special events. Fiesta DC does not owe money to DC for past Festival events.
The ‘Saturday morning group’ (in this case meeting on Saturday afternoon) assembled for this informal dialogue with the Chief has already met this year with the head of DCRA and now the police chief. It is an ad-hoc group of engaged individuals who promote greater communication and collaboration between city government and its Hispanic residents. The group has met on and off for a dozen years and, although this is the second such event this year there are plans for more. In the immediate future, the group has talked about organizing a Latino Town Hall meeting given the current political situation in the District.