Returning from Mexico: Latino Initiative – Law Enforcement 2017

Go Global NC’s Latino Initiative – Law Enforcement 2017 delegation members greeted each other at their one-month follow-up workshop like “extended family,” which is how these newest alumni describe themselves. They shared the unique experience of a Latino Initiative program. The officers bonded not just with the other officers from their own departments but with officers from other North Carolina counties and in Mexico.

In Mexico
The 17-member delegation experienced the international portion of their program in Mexico in September 2017.

They began their learning in Mexico City with an introduction to Mexican history, art, and culture, with tours led by Lynda Martínez del Campo of Understand Mexico. Martínez del Campo, originally from the United States but a long-time resident of Mexico, provided a unique perspective during the guided tour.

The delegation then headed to Guanajuato, a state northeast of the cosmopolitan Mexico City, and toured a specialized prison that offers social rehabilitation for inmates. The experience had an unexpected element: officers were surprised to be escorted through a facility where inmates are not in cells.

Meeting the People
Officers were then hosted by families in Taretan, a community that overlooks million-dollar factories of companies like Ford but where local families have been hit hard by poverty and lack of employment. Some families missed members who went to seek opportunity in United States, often leaving their small children behind with relatives. The host families graciously showed the officers around their homes and schools; but they also maintained a level of suspicion, wary of outsiders.

The poverty in Taretan was in stark contrast with the host visits the officers later had in Guanajuato City. Host families in Guanajuato City were middle to upper class, and they included people in the legal profession, a retired police officer and a law professor at the local university.

The Latino Initiative – Law Enforcement 2017 delegation then met and immediately formed a comradery with officers in San Luis de la Paz during a ride-along. The North Carolina officers noticed their peers in Mexico were heavily armed, worked longer shifts and had a deep concern for the safety of their families; but the 30-minute ride-along also established their similarities as law enforcement professionals. Captain David Addison of Durham said the ride-along made him realize, “No matter where you are, there are commonalities between officers that can’t be escaped, and they outnumber the differences.”

The Follow-Up Workshop
Approximately one month after their international experience, the Latino Initiative – Law Enforcement 2017 delegation gathered together in Chapel Hill for a workshop designed to stimulate action plans and provide additional resources to support their outreach to their Latino neighbors in local North Carolina communities. El Centro Hispano Executive Director Pilar Rocha-Goldberg and UNC-Wilmington Centro Hispano Director Edelmira Segovia, shared how their organizations can be of service to the officers. Officers were interested in El Centro Hispano’s work to educate new Latino neighbors about rules and systems in the United States to help them avoid unintentionally breaking laws that may not exist in Mexico. For example, Rocha-Goldberg pointed out there are no rules regarding car seats in Mexico, so it’s important to teach new residents that children in North Carolina are required to ride in a car seat. The officers recalled that while in Santa Rosa, Guanajuato, they saw a child riding on the back of a motorbike; the only safety mechanism was his dad’s arm wrapped around him.

Members of the Durham Police Department have and will continue to meet with Rocha-Goldberg to form action plans they can implement in their district. Kevin Jones and Nathan Fearrington, partners at Orange County Sheriff’s Department, traveled to El Centro Hispano’s office in Carrboro to begin introducing themselves to the community. There was initial mistrust of the uniform, but they are gaining trust and talking to individuals at the center through introductions by Rocha-Goldberg.

Officers were also excited to learn El Centro Hispano has Spanish classes available to them, an opportunity provided to the public through their Spanish Institute. Registrants can choose general Spanish or specialty classes for businesses or medical translation.

Delegates from UNC-Wilmington have been meeting with Segovia at Centro Hispano and planning opportunities to teach students and their colleagues at the university about what they learned during their time in Mexico. They are planning “Know your Rights” workshops on campus and a collection drive to give students returning home to Mexico for the holidays everything they might need.

“You have become ambassadors,” Go Global NC’s Latino Initiative Director Lorena Patterson told the gathered officers during an exercise on how to describe the experience for families, friends, and colleagues.

Officers discussed both short- and long-term plans to engage their communities. Among the plans: travel to El Centro Hispano or Centro Hispano to exchange ideas, invite Latino residents to the station or meet in other locations to learn more about the issues affecting them, and present what they learned to fellow officers.

The officers were excited to get back to work and apply what they learned in their communities, committing to each other as a new “extended family” across three counties that their travel was the beginning of a life-long journey.