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Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson Addresses the Hispanic and Black Officers Awards Banquet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, February 20, Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, attended the annual awards banquet for the combined associations of the Hispanic and Black law enforcement officers associations in the region. He was joined by many dignitaries, including Congressman Christopher Van Hollen, and Prince George’s County Police District I Police Commander Roberto Hylton. During the event, which drew a few hundred officers and their families, Johnson stressed the need to expand community policing and urged all officers to join his campaign to improve the reputation of the Prince George’s County Police Department.

“You are the first generation of officers of color and of Latino descent capable of exercising police powers that were denied to you until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. With that comes the awesome responsibility of protecting the civil rights of those we serve,” urged Johnson. Johnson who had a prepared set of remarks discarded them to talk about the legal and social history of the struggle of African Americans and Latinos in America. He was interrupted several times by applause and received a standing ovation from those assembled.

“Together, we will achieve excellence in our police department because you understand the struggles we have faced, and you understand the community we serve. You inherited the reputation of a police department that we must all work to change. I have confidence that with the leadership of our new police chief and the commitment of those here tonight, we can and will achieve out objective.”

A community forum to meet police chief designee Melvin C. High is scheduled for Wednesday, February 26 at 7:00 p.m. at the Largo Student Center at the Community College in Largo. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.

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Hispanic Officers Association Advise Citizens on Police Encounters

Hispanic Officers Association Advises Citizens on Police Encounters
Mo. Co. Prosecutor's Spanish Remarks Score Well with Langley Park Audience

Takoma Voice
May 1, 2001
by David Bates

About 100 people crammed into the P.G. County Police Department's Langley Park satellite office on April 2 for an introductory mini-course on the "do's" and "don'ts" for encounters with police officers and the judicial system.

"The first thing we're going to look at are the hands, because the hands can kill us," Prince George's County Police Cpl. Marcos Rodriguez said in Spanish to the audience of some 70 Hispanic residents and 30 or so police officers and news reporters.

"When a car is stopped, the person knows who I am, but I don't know who they are or what they might have in the car," Rodriguez told the standing-room-only crowd.

"It is important to put your hands where they can be seen, not up in the air like you're a robber, but up," he said, gesturing as if gripping a steering wheel of a vehicle.

Rodriguez was one of a handful of speakers offering advice to Hispanic residents at the workshop titled "Building Bridges of Understanding."

The meeting was organized by the national office of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association (HNLEA), an organization dedicated to enhancing relations between the law enforcement and Hispanic communities. HNLEA's board of directors is composed of police officers from Takoma Park, P.G. and Montgomery counties.

The event was aimed at educating the largely Latino community of the Takoma Park-Langley Park area about local police and the judicial system.

The workshop featured law enforcement officers from the P.G. and Montgomery county police departments. Together with Takoma Park police, these agencies police a tri-jurisdictional area along University Avenue and New Hampshire Boulevard that makes up the Takoma Park-Langley Park neighborhood.

Although several Takoma Park Police officers attended the event, none spoke to the audience. Some said they had been given a directive about their participation in the meeting from Takoma Park Police Chief Tom Anderson that they felt restricted their ability to speak.

"Per my chief, we are not to discuss specific incidents," one Takoma Park officer told the Takoma Voice.

Cpl. Rodriguez told the audience that during traffic stops in the Takoma Park-Langley Park area, communication between English-speaking police officers and Spanish-speaking residents often rapidly breaks down due to language barriers.

This communications problem can lead to misunderstandings in which an officer may feel threatened by an innocent person or in which a law-abiding citizen unable to understand an officer's comments may feel that he has been abused, he said.

He advised residents never to run from police, which, he said, officers would consider suspicious, but rather to act calmly and respectfully when stopped by a police officer.

"If you treat the officer with respect, the officer will treat you with respect. If you think that an officer has mistreated you, the thing to do is file a complaint," Rodriguez told the crowd, "But not at this moment."

Joe Perez, president of the local HNLEA chapter who also is a P.G. County Police officer and former Takoma Park Police officer, told the audience that the lack of Spanish language skills among many officers often led them to mistrust residents who speak Spanish. He added that HNLEA was working "to get officers to treat everyone well", including immigrants who may be illegal aliens.

"We have a professional responsibility to treat everybody fairly, to treat you with respect. Even though we may not all have legal status here, we are all human beings here and we deserve to be treated like human beings," he said.

Perez told audience members that HNLEA would help residents pursue complaints of police mistreatment if they felt they had been mistreated.

Prosecutor Scores Points for Spanish Presentation

Maryland State's Attorney for Montgomery County, Doug Gansler, received a very warm round of applause from the audience after delivering a short address in Spanish.

Gansler, who said he had honed his Spanish-language skills as a youth during a short stay in Uruguay, described the basic structure and operation of his office and touted some of the services his office can provide, such as assistance to crime victims, government brochures in Spanish, and the county's "community prosecution" program.

During a question-and-answer session with audience members, during which he slipped back into English, he sought to explain why there are only 16 fluent Spanish speakers in his office.

"The opportunities in the private sector are much better. Whenever we get a Spanish speaking attorney, there's a private firm that's going to pay him five times as much," Gansler said.

"We're actually going to have someone come into my office to teach people how to speak Spanish," he added.

Gansler's counterpart in P.G. County, State's Attorney Jack Johnson, did not attend -- an absence that was pointedly noted to the audience by HNLEA's Perez, who said Johnson had promised to address the workshop.

Instead, Mark Spencer, deputy State's Attorney for P.G. County, spoke on Johnson's behalf, acknowledging that P.G. County government was struggling to provide resources to its growing Hispanic population.

"It's true, Prince George's County has been behind in providing services," he said. "We're behind in about every category. We're behind in resources."

He blamed insufficient budgets for P.G. County's lack of Spanish-speaking prosecutors and information printed in Spanish.

But he insisted P.G. County was working to improve services for its immigrant residents, including an automated governmental telephone system with audio options available in English, Spanish, and Korean. Spencer also said a victim assistance coordinator was expected to begin work in the area soon.

"Another big problem in prosecuting cases is explaining to the immigrant community that we are not the Federal Government," he said. "Our only interest is in pursuing witnesses and prosecuting crimes."

Strained Relations

Relations between local police officers and recent immigrants in the Takoma Park-Langley Park area often have been strained.

Last November, officials of CASA de Maryland, a Takoma Park-based nonprofit social services agency that works with Hispanic residents, complained about city police officers ticketing immigrants who were congregating outside a convenience store at University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue hoping employers would come by to offer them a day's work.

The police ticketing was a response to representatives of the shopping center who demanded police take action to remove the sometimes 60 or more day laborers who gathered each morning in the parking lot of the store. The large crowd was damaging business, according to a representative of the shopping center's property management firm.

Some of the day laborers told the Takoma Voice that they or their companions have been assaulted by county police officers.

Not far from the P.G. County Police satellite office is the scene of an alleged 1995 unprovoked police dog attack on two homeless Hispanic immigrants that resulted in the federal trial this year of two P.G. County Police officers and one former Takoma Park police officer on civil rights charges. A fourth officer, from Takoma Park, retired Nov. 1 and pleaded guilty to charges in the case.

The jury acquitted the P.G. County officers of one charge each but could not reach a verdict on a remaining charge each against the three defendants. The charge against former Takoma Park Police detective Brian Rich subsequently was dropped and a re-trial was scheduled to begin in late July for the other defendants in the case.

'Flood of Phone' Calls for More Workshops After the workshop, HNLEA's Perez said people from throughout Maryland had heard about the event and were seeking similar presentations in their communities.

"We've been receiving a flood of phone calls from people who want to do similar events," he said. "We hope to do one in Takoma Park soon."

Perez added that HNLEA was offering a similar crash-course on police encounters at the Seat Pleasant Elementary School on May 18 and was planning similar presentations in upper Montgomery County and downtown Baltimore.

He noted that a series of community meetings sponsored by the P.G. County Human Relations Commission indicated that many non-minority residents also were interested in receiving the HNLEA training.

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Hispanic and Black Awards Banquet
HNLEA Advise on Police Encounters