Chapel Hill News

Hillsborough police reach out to Latino residents

As a mother of three, Rosario Rodriguez has worried about her children’s safety – and the example set for them – when she spots illegal drug use in her neighborhood.

But as a Spanish speaker and native of Mexico, Rodriguez didn’t know where to turn for help.

“My daughter is 11,” Rodriguez said, in Spanish. “That’s the behavior she’s seeing. For that reason, I was worried, because I wanted to report it, but I didn’t know how.”

At the Hillsborough Police Department’s first-ever Community Summit for Latino Citizens held this spring, local Latinos learned more about the resources the department offers, from handling emergencies to making neighborhoods safer in the long-term.

Held at Durham Technical Community College’s Orange County campus, the summit also allowed Hillsborough’s police officers to hear directly about the residents’ concerns. Interpreter Julieta Figueroa helped facilitate the dialogue, in which residents sought advice for handling everything from possible tax scams to bullying – and even what to do if they ever feel treated unfairly by law enforcement.

Senior Cpl. Tereasa King said the Police Department wants to strengthen trust and cooperation with Hillsborough’s Latino population. King and Officer Tashia Mayo, Hillsborough’s community service officers, organized the summit.

“As Hillsborough grows, we have been noticing that our Latino community is growing as well – which we are very excited about,” King said.

“There’s not (always) been a lot of trust, so we’re going to have to change that…(Latino residents) have been more and more involved in the community, and what’s what we want to see.”

Latino and Hispanic residents represented 8.9 percent of Hillsborough’s 2013 population – up from 3.5 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census.

‘A lot of questions’

Mayo saw the need for a Latino community summit after observing Spanish-speaking residents’ active interest in community safety. Of the approximately 18 residents who attend Fairview’s Community Watch meetings, at least half are usually Latino residents, Mayo explained.

At the police substation in west Hillsborough’s Fairview neighborhood, Latino residents often came to the officers, wanting to know how to handle emergencies or better protect their families.

“They ask us a lot of questions – things we sometimes have to ask (others), ourselves,” Mayo said.

Sometimes, lack of knowledge, or lack of trust, has meant that crimes get reported late – or not at all, Mayo added.

“Our main goal is to have them understand how the policing process works.”

911 calls

Hillsborough Chief of Police Duane Hampton and Sergeant Scott Nicolaysen joined King and Mayo to answer some of the questions they hear most frequently.

For 911 calls, for example: some of the staff at the Orange County call center do speak Spanish, but non-English speakers can also switch over to the “language line” for an interpreter.

Many residents also wonder how they can report potential criminal activity without endangering their own families, Mayo said. The answer: residents can call anonymously and simply ask officers to check out an area.

No concern is too small, Mayo added; residents don’t have to worry about distracting officers from “more important duties.” The police can prioritize calls.

Nicolaysen warned residents of a slew of potential scams, from requests for personal information from fake utility bills, to demands for money orders charging for a family member’s emergency.

Nicolaysen personally advised one participant, who said that after a year’s work of house-cleaning, her tax adviser told her she had to pay more money in taxes than she’d even earned.

“There are a lot of people out there who are going to take advantage of people because of language barriers,” Hampton explained. “So providing us this information allows us to try to help. What’s happening to you is probably also happening to other people in your community.”

What seemed most important to me is that even if something seems small, you can call.

Rosario Rodriguez, Hillsborough mother of three

What if residents ever feel unjustly treated by law enforcement? Hampton said residents can file a formal complaint with the department, or, ultimately, even file a lawsuit.

Summit participants also learned about options for dealing with domestic violence, through a presentation from the Compass Center for Women and Families, and about Durham Tech’s English as a Second Language offerings.

“I wanted them to see the resources that are available,” Mayo said.

The officers’ openness and commitment to safety encouraged Rodriguez. She said she now knows she can act when she feels threatened.

“What seemed most important to me is that even if something seems small, you can call.”

In the quest for safe and healthy communities, these kinds of conversations are essential for the police department, Mayo said.

“We’re open. We’re building partnerships, and that’s what we thrive on.”

“We are one –– the citizens and enforcement are one.”