The Dane County Sheriff’s Office must work to better reflect the Latino community, said members of the audience at a Latino Support Network forum.
Two candidates for sheriff, Republican Mike Hanson and Democrat David Mahoney, took questions from some 100 people at the monthly “La Sup” meeting Wednesday.
Mahoney, a 26-year Dane County Sheriff’s Office veteran, and Hanson, a five-year veteran of the Madison Police Department and its public spokesman, both said the overcrowding of jails and an inadequate Latino presence in the Sheriff’s Office were important issues.
“I want a commitment that in 90 days after you get into office, one-third of the staff, including administrators, are people of color,” said Juan Jose Lopez, a former Madison School Board member. “Otherwise, there’s no reason to be here.”
Hanson said overseeing such a change in 90 days would be difficult due to the length of the hiring process, but he could see it taking place within a year.
“I’ve seen the benefit of working in a diverse environment,” Hanson said, noting that last year as a Dane County Board supervisor he worked to get $5,000 for minority recruitment.
Teresa Tellez-Giron, a Dane County social worker, said the Sheriff’s Office should do more to connect with Latinos in the community.
“There is a gap …. Latinos are scared of the police,” she said.
In addition to increased hiring of people of color, Hanson said police outreach programs such as Amigos en Azul (Friends in Blue), should be implemented at the county level. Amigos en Azul is a program of the Madison Police Department that relates law enforcement policies and services to recent immigrants and other Latinos.
Hanson added that there should be transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Office, and added that operation manuals of the office and disciplinary actions toward officers are made public.
Both candidates spoke about how the crowding of jails and the number of inmate transfers to other counties was uprooting Latinos and from their cultural, community and religious support networks, in addition to costing the county over $2 million a year.
Immigration: On the topic of undocumented immigration, Mahoney and Hanson said Wednesday that they would follow the procedure of notifying the Immigration and Naturalization Service when a felony is committed, but not make it a priority.
In cases where a misdemeanor has been committed, both said their policy was not to report it to the INS.
“It’s not pragmatic to report every undocumented immigrant to the INS,” Hanson said. “Though we have a duty to work with the INS and other departments.”