Police Work to Improve Hispanic Relations

Trace Christianson, Battle Creek Enquirer, Sept. 23, 2009

Felipe Lugo said he hasn’t had problems with police in the Battle Creek area.

“There are no problems that I am aware of,” the 37-year-old Battle Creek man said Tuesday.

He was one of the first to arrive for “Know Your Rights,” a program designed for the Hispanic community, conducted in Spanish and sponsored by the Latino/Hispanic Community Project.

And while Lugo, who said he speaks limited English, said he has not heard about a problem between Hispanics and police officers, he would seem to represent a minority.

A recent Battle Creek area survey shows 64 percent of Hispanics do not believe police treat them with respect and 77 percent believe the police will ask them for immigration papers even during routine traffic stops.

The meeting at Burnham Brook was designed not only to explain rights, but is one effort to educate and improve the relationship between police and the Hispanic community.

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“The community is scared to make a complaint,” said Kate Kennedy, project director of the Latino/Hispanic Community Project, funded by the Battle Creek Community Foundation. “That is the perception of the community.”

The survey of 197 Hispanics living in the greater Battle Creek area was conducted between June and December 2008 by The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University. The results were released in February.

Kennedy, whose nonprofit organization is designed to assist Hispanics obtain community resources, such as health care, employment, education and law enforcement services, said the results represented perceptions of those surveyed, even though no hard data exists on actual discrimination or inferior treatment by police.

And Deputy Chief Jackie Hampton of the Battle Creek Police Department said his officers don’t ask about immigration status unless the person is arrested, “and then we have no control of it.”

Hampton said the department has tried to respond to the growing number of Hispanics and Latino residents in the city, with is now estimated at about 5 percent of the population, or 3,000 people.

“As the population has increased, we have become more aware of their needs and sensitive to their concerns,” Hampton said. “We are trying to represent the entire population of Battle Creek.”

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Kennedy said her agency still must collect data, trying to determine any actual incidents of profiling, checks of immigration status, and even an estimate of how many illegal immigrants and bilingual residents are living in the metropolitan area.

“But tonight the main goal is to talk to people and have a comfortable atmosphere,” she said. “We are educating them about their rights and giving them practical examples about what to do.”

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