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Strategy: Raising Cultural Awareness

Strategy Law enforcement can more effectively bring police services to residents by establishing a substation within or close to . . .


Law enforcement can more effectively bring police services to residents by establishing a substation within or close to immigrant neighborhoods. Employing bilingual community service officers, distributing bilingual crime prevention materials, and being open to developing a greater cultural sensitivity can help law enforcement improve relationships, gain the trust of the community, and better help them address local crime problems.  

Community Problem Addressed

As the number of immigrants in the United States increases, so does the number of immigrant residents who become targets of crimes or witnesses of crimes.  Because many of the immigrants do not speak English, a great portion of these crimes go unreported.  Additionally, some of the immigrants never report crimes because they feared the police in their homeland and may think they will have the same experience in this country.  By developing programs to reach out to the immigrant communities, police can gain access to and protect the immigrant community.

Key Components

The cornerstone of any relationship between the police and an ethnic community is trust, a bond that is not always easy to develop.  In order for police to teach ethnic groups how to protect themselves from crime, communication and cultural barriers must be overcome through cultural sensitivity training, patient instruction, and special information sharing. It is important to have within the community an office or an accessible substation where crimes can be reported.

Key Partnerships

The key partnerships are the police department, the immigrant community, and the local government refugee office.  The police often rely on the services of translators, interpreters, community liaisons, and other trusted members of the immigrant community to develop effective communication.

Potential Obstacles

Gang members from immigrant populations may work against what the police and other organizations are trying to establish for the community.  Also, law enforcement agencies must sometimes be convinced that problems exist and then be willing to make institutional commitments of money, time for language or cultural diversity training, and personnel.

Examples of Success and Results

In 1994, the Refugee Resettlement Office in Davenport, Iowa, started the WINGS program.  The program was started because a local Vietnamese gang was terrorizing the ethnic community.  The community was also afraid of the local police department and could not properly communicate its needs.  Up until this point, the police were not even aware that a problem existed.

Working out of an office in the focus neighborhood and with the help of the police and a well-respected Vietnamese community leader, the new residents started to educate themselves and their fellow Vietnamese community members about crime prevention and how the local law enforcement could help. Law enforcement developed bilingual crime prevention material and hired a special police officer. They taught him key phrases in Vietnamese and provided cultural sensitivity training.  He attended community meetings and visited residents, local businesses, and schools.  He has become an advocate for them and they have grown to trust him. He also arranges for court translations and assists with other community programs such as domestic abuse prevention.

As a result of this program, the Vietnamese community has developed a positive working relationship with the specially appointed police officer and is not afraid to call his office to report crimes or other related problems. With the help of the Refugee Resettlement Office, the new police officer has successfully brought crime response, crime prevention, and other assistance to the neighborhood and schools.  This program is in effect in the surrounding quad-city area, which includes cities such as Bettendorf, Iowa [population 50,000]. It continues to spread to other local communities and has not only helped the Vietnamese community, but is also helping the new immigrants from Bosnia and Kosovo.

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