Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reaching out to Spanish speakers in the Northeast

You may have seen some of the news coverage lately of our outreach to the Latino community in Kansas City’s historic Northeast area. It’s a community that has changed a lot over the years. The statistic quoted in this Kansas City Star article is a pretty amazing testament to the demographic shift:

“In 1990, the Northeast area was 79 percent white. In 2000, Hispanics became the majority. Projections for 2010 are that it will be 63 percent Hispanic, with the rest of the population almost evenly divided between African-American, white and other races.”

As a department dedicated to community policing, it is up to us to keep up with the needs of the community. That’s why three years ago, we started Spanish immersion classes for KCPD members. They take the equivalent of four semesters of college Spanish in 10 weeks, and then some go on to spend another five weeks for more classes and immersion in Mexico (I posted updates from those officers on this blog a few months ago). A total of 52 KCPD members have graduated from this program.

Many businesses in the Northeast now speak only Spanish. No matter where these residents are from or how they got here, it is our duty to keep them and their community safe. But we had been running into roadblocks. We found that many business owners and community members – who only speak Spanish – have not been reporting incidents because they felt we could do nothing about it. Or they were afraid to call the police because of their legal status in the country. Captain Robert Zimmerman at our East Patrol Division decided to do something about that. Every Tuesday afternoon, Spanish-speaking officers (including the graduates of our Spanish immersion program) pair up with each other or Northeast community members and go door-to-door at Hispanic businesses, introducing themselves and just getting to know those who live in the community they serve.

Captain Zimmerman said, “We are finding that once the initial introductions are made, and they realize that we are just trying to get information that will help their community and are not there to justify any legal status, we are receiving good feedback.”

Officers have gotten to know people at about 50 Spanish-speaking businesses so far. They are passing out flyers with information about our new Spanish-speaking hotline: 816-482-8531. This is a non-emergency number for members of the community who don’t speak English to call with information or problems. Spanish-speaking officers at the East Patrol Division monitor the messages and work to address the issues. Each call is assigned to an officer and is followed up on. So far, the calls have ranged from crime issues to people just asking about problems in the area and what they can do to help.

I am very pleased with these outreach efforts, and I look forward to building even better relationships with all of Kansas City’s diverse communities in the future.

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