Gilberto Perez Jr. and Goshen Police Chief Wade Branson were talking about Latinos being cited for driving without a license. Those drivers might feel nervous, according to Perez, and perhaps feel they’re being discriminated against and wonder why they’re being pulled over.
That chat was the springboard for a community policing project. Goals behind the effort include building trust between the Latino community and Goshen police, and sharing information with Latinos about what the police department does.
“I would say it’s a greater awareness of policing here in Goshen, which gives law enforcement an opportunity to tell the Latino community how they function and what types of things to expect,” Perez Jr. said.
Five community meetings have taken place since April, with more planned in the future.
The community policing program involves Goshen city and law enforcement officials, Hispanics and interested non-Latinos from various churches. The initiative brought people together to have a discussion about police work: What type of questions might an officer ask during a traffic stop? What should drivers expect if they’re pulled over? What if a driver doesn’t have a license?
“The initiative gives the Goshen Police Department an opportunity to explain some of those basic traffic stop things that may be different from where the Latino people are coming from, their particular country, whether it’s Mexico, Central or South America,” Perez Jr. said. “That initiative creates space for people to openly ask questions of our law enforcement officials.”
Perez Jr. said he sees potential for the initiative to expand to other Goshen city departments. For example, a Building Department staffer could talk to Latino congregations about building permits and what’s permissible in a home expansion project.
At far as his own department is concerned, Goshen Police Chief Wade Branson sounds pleased with the community initiative.
“Moving to a new community can be difficult; add in the culture differences and potential language barriers and it can cause apprehension and fear of the unknown,” Branson said in a statement to The News. “The meetings with the Latino community have been about providing information and answering questions in a comfortable and familiar environment. These meetings are instrumental in relaying important information but they are also a great way to introduce our Latino residents to the police department, its services and practices.”
Branson stated his hope is that attendees leave the meetings with their questions answered, their concerns relieved and with an accurate understanding of what Goshen police officers do.
“The majority of the residents of Goshen, regardless of their country of origin, want the same things: to live in a safe community and provide for their families,” Branson said.