Local police meet with Mexican Consulate
Members of local police forces in Jefferson and Berkeley counties met last week with the Mexican Consulate, Juan Carlos Mendoza, to discuss ways to better communicate with members of the Spanish-speaking communities.
Mendoza, who recently moved into the Consulate post, explained that there has been little or no communication between the Consulate office and officials in West Virginia.
“I want to fix that problem,” Mendoza said. “It is important that we work together.”
Mendoza shared a bit of Mexico’s history with the police chiefs and sheriffs attending the roundtable discussion, citing that there has been huge reform in that country. Prior to this current reform, Mexican citizens were afraid of police there, Mendoza explained. Therefore, he continued, they are wary of police in the United States.
“More Mexicans are staying in Mexico are being deported than are coming to the U.S. now,” Mendoza said.
Concerns of the police when dealing with the Mexican population or any Spanish-speaking individuals centered on the inability to communicate.
Ranson Police Chief Bill Roper asked Mendoza, “What, as police, do we need to know so we don’t offend those in our area?”
The language barrier is the top problem. To help break down those walls, Roper said that his officers had previously met with local advocate Lorena Nathan, who taught basic Spanish words and phrases to the officers to allow them not only to better communicate but to understand conversations between other individuals.
The group meeting last week agreed that further training of this sort is essential, especially when there are very few Spanish speaking officers. Berkeley County Sheriff Kenny LeMaster offered to schedule a training session for officers in both counties.
Mendoza stressed that education is key to those coming to the United States. Education first that the police are not the enemy and education about the local laws and how to speak English.
The Washington D.C. Consulate office provides a “Consulate on Wheels” that is available in outreach locations to provide assistance to Mexican individuals who need help with anything. Mendoza indicated it would be beneficial if local police came to the Consulate on Wheels location to talk to individuals and answer questions. Legal consultations and other services including health services are also provided.
Mendoza was quick to point out, “We are not defending criminals. As any consulate, we follow cases for due process with rights. But criminals must go through the judicial process.”
Mendoza also said that the Consulate stresses to individuals that the goal of police is not to deport Mexicans.
“We try to explain, ‘If you don’t want to be sent back to Mexico, don’t commit crime,'” he said.
Charles Town Police Chief Chris Kutcher shared that his department often struggles to find out exactly who an individual is. There are many false identifications given, especially in traffic stops.
Jefferson Sheriff Pete Dougherty said he thinks that along with a class on minimal Spanish language, street level officers need a course in what documentation may be presented as identification and how to verify that identification.
Mendoza explained that his office is working to issue Consulate identification cards to Mexican individuals in this area to help confirm identifications. It is a slow process; however, Mendoza said his office is determined to make a difference and work with local police jurisdictions to assist with whatever problems they face when dealing with Mexican and other Spanish speaking individuals.