The Durham County Sheriff’s Office’s new liaison to the Hispanic community says he wants to serve immigrants, not arrest them.
“There are a lot of things going on in Washington right now, and they filter down into local municipalities,” Capt. Raheem Aleem said. “Our job is not to find people and go out there and deport them.”
The Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday announced the appointment of the Spanish-speaking, Muslim officer as its first liaison to an increasingly anxious Hispanic community.
“I saw a need in our community that requires a special set of skills,” Sheriff Mike Andrews said in a news release. “Captain Aleem is already committed to building relationships with residents from all walks of life. This is our way of giving people more access to the Sheriff’s Office.”
Aleem has worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 20 years, leading its Community Services Division and school resource officer program. He serves as a mentor for at-risk youth in the Durham community and was appointed to the newly announced post in December.
As Hispanic community outreach coordinator, Aleem will help Spanish-speaking crime victims, organize community meetings in the Hispanic community and get community feedback as the Sheriff’s Office revises and develops new policies.
Aleem’s father was a career Marine drill sergeant, and with a childhood spent traveling from military base to base, Aleem is from “a little bit of everywhere,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
He originally came to Durham for school and trained with Duke’s ROTC program while studying at N.C. Central University, graduating in 1988. The same year, Aleem was commissioned as a second lieutenant in U.S. Army Airborne.
Aleem left the Army for a life in Miami, where he learned Spanish.
“There are so many pockets of Miami that don’t speak English at all,” he said. “There are still certain dialects of Spanish I have trouble with. It’s not like I’m a native speaker. But I can communicate with people on the street and hear their concerns.”
Aleem came back to Durham and joined the Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy. After three or four years on patrol, he worked drug cases for seven years, rode as a motorcycle deputy for two years and in 2015 became the Sheriff’s Community Services Division leader.
“I can’t take any credit for the new Hispanic community outreach coordinator job,” Aleem said. “It’s the sheriff’s brainchild, him wanting to take a proactive approach to embrace the community’s concerns.”
When people are afraid to approach law enforcement officers because they are here illegally, crimes perpetrated against them may go unreported, he said.
Last month, Aleem spoke to a man whose car had been hit by another vehicle near U.S. 70. The man was afraid to call 911 and report the accident because he was in the country illegally and without a driver’s license.
“He was about to let the guy who hit him just drive away,” Aleem said. “I explained to him that if somebody hits your car, you have the right to report it. Without a license, you might get a citation. We understand people have to get back and forth to work. They still have rights.”
Many Hispanics speak a mixture of English and Spanish, what Aleem called “Spanglish.”
He encourages Spanglish, telling people not to fear mispronunciations or “clam up,” because many deputies and police officers speak Spanglish too and are willing to stumble through sentences as well.
The Sheriff’s Office noted Aleem’s religion in its release because “we want the Muslim community to know that we understand they have concerns about immigration as well,” spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said.
“There is a huge Muslim community in Durham,” Aleem said.
Muslims often ask Aleem if he thinks society is “going back” to a time in which Muslims are seen solely as terrorist threats.
He tells people to walk without fear and with righteous conduct. “If you respect yourself, ultimately, you are OK,” he said.
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Checkpoint near school raises concern
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office says a checkpoint Monday at Hamlin Road and Industrial Drive near the School for Creative Studies was about traffic enforcement, not illegal immigration.
In a letter to local elected officials and media outlets, Brian Callaway, a Durham Public Schools employee, wrote he encountered the checkpoint at about 4 p.m. Monday. He said the deputy who asked for his license and registration at first did not identify himself.
When he objected to the checkpoint Callaway said he was told his employer would be notified that he had been “insubordinate.”
“I told him that my understanding is that people have been deported for infractions as simple as driving without a license,” Callaway wrote in the letter. “Further, I explained how I hear stories from my teacher friends about how, following President Trump’s election, many children, especially those from households of mixed documentation, are coming to school, fearful and in tears about the threats that have been leveled against them and their families.”
The School for Creative Studies has about 22 percent Hispanic enrollment, according to DPS statistics reported to the state,
In an email, spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said the Sheriff’s Office was conducting traffic enforcement in the area as it often receives complaints about speeding and other traffic violations, especially in neighborhoods and school zones.
Andrews and a member of the command staff spoke with Callaway on Tuesday morning, Gibbs said.
“I can tell you that the agency is looking into exactly what happened from both Mr. Callaway’s perspective and the deputy’s perspective,” she wrote.
“More importantly, we’re hoping you can help us put a stop to rampant rumors about immigration enforcement that seem to be circulating in our community,” she added. “To be clear, the Sheriff’s Office does not actively search for people based on immigration status.”
Staff writer Mark Schultz