Tremendous strides have been made by the Clinton Police Department in reaching out to the local Latino population and that effort will continue next week with the department’s 3rd annual Latino Community Meeting.
This year’s effort is being organized in partnership with the Juntos Club of Clinton High School and Clinton City Schools. The event will be held at Clinton High School from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov 19. The ultimate goal of the meetings has been to bridge gaps between police and the citizens they serve and protect, breaking down cultural and language barriers in order to build relationships.
A small part of the Juntos Club served as the advising committee, but the entire club is helping with the event.
“I am very excited about our next meeting and cannot wait to see how our police department and community will grow from this type of forum,” Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley said. “The department realizes we are policing in a small town and the people we serve are our neighbors and friends. The community meetings gives us a chance to break down barriers and extend our services to neighbors and friends that may have felt isolated before.”
For the last couple years, the department has engaged in an earnest outreach to the local Spanish-speaking population in hopes they would not just bridge a communication gap but open up those lines for years to come. It started in 2013 when Tilley went over to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clinton, just across the street from the police station, in order to introduce himself and hear concerns.
“We started seeing a frustration with some of the Latino population, because when they came and dealt with the Police Department there was always either a language barrier or a cultural barrier and we were having trouble communicating,” the chief has said. “That’s where we got the idea to have a community meeting so we could hear the areas we were coming up short and the areas where we could help the Latino community.”
A Hispanic committee was formed through the church that included many members, including Ambar Banos, who would subsequently become a valued part of the police administration. In addition to an inaugural community meeting, a Spanish-language Clinton Police Department Facebook page was started. A second community meeting followed in November 2014 and, since that time, two bilingual officers have also been hired.
“The CPD strives hard to have a work force that represents the community,” Tilley said. “We have hired two Latino officers and an administrative assistant in our recruitment efforts to meet that goal. The community meeting played a big role in our recruitment efforts.”
Communication has always been the key to successful police work, he said, and he acknowledged that a lack of understanding about police procedures and responsibilities can turn an insignificant item into a major issue.
“We expect a much larger group this year than in the past,” Captain Donald Edwards said.
Where previous meeting have included a large presentation in which individual speakers address the crowd one at a time, this meeting will start with an introduction from Tilley and immediately allow attendees to visit any of 17 different booths that will be set up by various community groups, city departments and service organizations. Edwards said there will also be private rooms where those with concerns can speak one on one with a representative.
Among the groups represented at the meeting will be Clinton-Sampson Planning and Zoning, Clinton Rec and Parks, Clinton Fire Department, E-911 Center, Sampson Community College, N.C. Highway Patrol, the Center for Health and Wellness and College Central, an agency that links employers with prospective job candidates through college-based centers. Clinton City Schools and Juntos will also be very much involved, and the Department of Motor Vehicles could also be in attendance.
“The more we reach out, the closer we’ll be able to get to the diverse communities that we’re serving,” Edwards said. “This builds up those relationships with the community, partnerships and awareness of the services offered. It gives us an opportunity to advertise our programs.”
He pointed to the benefits of the Tip 411 system, which allows residents to report crimes to police via text messaging. Detailing that process at past community meetings has boosted the number of people utilizing that service.
“With our tip lines, we’ve definitely seen a difference the more we advertise that,” said Edwards. “They are using it and we’ve seen that with a lot of our violent crimes.”
Police policies have also been modified as a result of discussions at the Latino community meetings, including how checking stations are conducted, in order to ease the process for the Spanish-speaking populous.
Tilley touted the meetings with opening lines of communication.
“The Latino meeting has been very beneficial to both citizens and the department. One of our goals was for Latino victims to be more willing to report crimes and quality of life issues,” said Tilley, who noted improvement in those areas. “We are now seeing more confidence and trust with Latino citizens when they interact with the police.”
Banos has stressed that it is all about letting the Spanish-speaking public feel as comfortable as possible and not be afraid to come to police, who are there to help.
“If you have a problem, a question or anything, we don’t want them to be afraid to come to us,” she has said. “Aside from the language barrier, know that we’re here to help.”
That is now what officers are seeing, and they hope the third meeting acts only to further cement that bond.
Tilley called that second meeting “the most productive and dynamic meeting the Police Department ever held with a citizen group.” Everyone came away from the meeting “knowing they had help build a familiarity and trust that made our community stronger.”
He is hoping for much of the same next week. Edwards said the change is already very present.
“They know they can come down here with their concerns, they know who to contact and they know they can communicate with us,” the captain said.
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