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Spotlight: Kansas City police learn to coexist with immigrant communities through culture immersion

LatinaLista — When writing about immigrant communities, law enforcement and immigration enforcement, it’s too easy to focus on everything that is not working.
Yet, there are programs in place that are working. Unfortunately, they don’t get the notice they deserve.
In a new feature that will run periodically on Latina Lista, we will focus on those programs that are operating and proving to have a positive impact on the Latino communities.
Our first Spotlight feature focuses on what the Kansas City police department is trying to do to coexist with the local Latino community: they immerse themselves into the culture and language by taking an intensive 10-week training program that includes making them proficient enough to be considered bilingual and places them in the neighborhoods they police to get to know the people, the culture, the local leaders and most importantly, not just to protect them but talk with them.

“I think it’s one of the most important things I’ve done since being with the department,” said Megan Laffoon, an officer for nearly three years and one of the first to finish the department’s Spanish language and culture program. “I don’t think you can fully serve a community if you can’t speak their language.”
The program is in just its second year, and hard evidence of it’s effect remains largely anecdotal. But advocates cite numerous examples in which the emerging trust between Hispanics and police has helped with investigations.


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  • yave begnet
    July 19, 2008 at 6:55 am

    That is a hopeful sign. I’ll be looking forward to future spotlights.

  • Frank
    July 19, 2008 at 7:48 am

    So assimilation to OUR culture and language by “immigrants” is no longer desirable? We are supposed to adapt to their culture even though we know that we are mostly talking about illegal aliens here? Unbelievable!

  • Jax
    July 19, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    That’s all very nice and even helpful. I hope they are consolidating resources in an attempt to get rid of illegals.

    July 22, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Didn’t even consider the fact of this being a process of infiltration for the law officers. It could lead to many arrests of illegals and that would be a feather in the cap of the person that came up with this idea. It still sounds a bit like pandering to non-English speaking persons, but it may be a very wise and affective way of weeding out illegals.

  • Challis
    July 22, 2008 at 11:26 am

    I think this is a great way for the police officers to stay connected with what is going on in the community.
    It’s not about assimilation, it’s about adapting to your environment, on both sides of the coin.
    I have spoken to the Chief of Police here in my city (state of Arkansas) and it is a concern of the police department that Latinos are victims of crimes that go unreported. The police are here to serve the community, and having a segment of the population who is afraid to contact them for help hurts the community as a whole and hinders the officers from doing the best job they can to to protect and serve.

  • Marisa Treviño
    July 22, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Pretty sure that was never the intent nor would it be endorsed by the police dept. since it would ruin their efforts at what they are trying to accomplish.

  • urbanleftbehind
    July 23, 2008 at 9:32 am

    KC, MO already had and still has established community of Mexican-Americans, some of whom for better or worse probably still live in cloistered Spanish-language communities. That’s another legitimate discussion thread. So the illegal/legal ratio is not as high as, say, some town down South.
    I think Kansas City is smart in this respect to keep the hispanic population as a counterweight to its more publicized and more criminally minded black population. Don’t be suprised to see Detroit adopt this type of thing to keep its burgeoning SW hispanic community from brown from black* flight.
    *The midwest is different from Los Angeles and other places, especially where there was a large community of Mexican-Americans that was there between the 1910s and 1960s. Mexicans are usually the last of the “white people” to leave a changing neighborhood, a buffer between well-to-do whites and blacks.

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