Bridging the Divide

This story originally appeared on the Public News Service website.

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img_4591CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While Law enforcement officers around the country are under scrutiny for policing tactics, 24 men and women in blue from Mecklenburg and Union counties recently traveled to Mexico to gain a better understanding of the Latino communities they police here at home.

The goal of the program was to improve the officers’ cultural understanding by providing insight into the background and traditions of thousands of Latinos and Hispanics living in the state. Major Sherrie Pearsall of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the experience will shape her approach forever.

“It hit so close to home, and we had our debrief and I think everybody in the room cried,” Pearsall said. “When you see other people, it is hard to misunderstand people once you sit at the dinner table.”

Pearsall and her colleagues will spend the next month sharing what they learned with fellow officers. The program – sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Foundation for the Carolinas, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and coordinated by Go Global NC – started in 1998; but this was the first year the trip was focused on community policing.

According to the U.S. Census, North Carolina has one of the nation’s fastest-growing Latino populations, and more than half are from Mexico.

Lorena Patterson, program director for the Go Global NC Latino Initiative, said the program’s benefits extend far beyond those who go on the trip.

“If you have the leadership in place with this understanding, and then you get the officers that have direct contact with the community on the same level of understanding, there’s got to be a way that they can work better for their communities,” Patterson said.

Corporal Freddy Karban with the Mint Hill Police Department said he hopes the program expands to include more of his colleagues.

“Having that cultural experience and understand where they’re coming from and how to build those relationships,” Karban said, “I feel like if every officer had the chance to experience this, the possibilities are limitless.”

Officers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Union County, Matthews, Monroe, Davidson, Pineville, Huntersville and Mint Hill were on this year’s trip. Go Global NC is looking at ways to expand the program.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service – NC

View more images from the program.

Watch Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney talk about why he wanted his officers involved in the program.