Forum focuses on fostering relationship between Latinos and law enforcement

Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Davis has every reason to alienate himself from the Latino community.

Last year, his brother was killed by an undocumented immigrant during a routine traffic stop in Auburn.

His father was killed on the same day 26 years earlier while on a special assignment related to drug trafficking between Arizona and the Mexican border.

Despite the pain and suffering he and his family have endured with the loss of two family members, he remains committed to learning more about, informing and educating the Latino community about law enforcement and their role in the community.

“Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character and I realize that what happened to my family were solitary incidents and that does not mean all Latinos are the same,” said Davis.

While sharing his personal story, Davis expressed his commitment and deep interest in better serving the Latino community during a special forum last week hosted by the Concilio de Liderazgo Latino Leadership Council titled ‘Reflecting on a Year of Racial Unrest and Fostering Community Trust.’

Joined by several law enforcement officers and community members including an undocumented immigrant, Davis said it is a top priority for law enforcement officials at all levels in the county and throughout Northern California to foster a trusting relationship with their constituents.

Latinos, he said, are a group they are still trying to reach.

“We understand there are fears and we understand many have worries about their immigration status, but we are not here to look at your status. We prefer to know what is going on in the community and would rather you call us to stop a crime from being committed or when you have been a witness to one,” said Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn.

The second annual forum was hosted after generations of mistrust and lack of communication between Latino communities and law enforcement has led to fear, hostility and strained relationships.

Recent incidents across the nation have helped fuel a volatile environment that has resulted in protests, riots and acts of violence. While the situation is not as dire in the Placer and Sacramento regions as in other parts of the country, organizers believe it is absolutely imperative to address and fix the issues before “even the smallest of altercations can set a smoldering kindle afire.”

“This event is an attempt to address the issues of violence and confrontation we have seen lately in the media with law enforcement officers and communities of color, by bringing them to the table to share their perspectives, find common ground and begin to build trust,” said Carlos Quiroz with the Latino Leadership Council.

The frank and open dialogue was a reason why Antonio Dávila joined the panel discussion to share his perspective as an undocumented immigrant.

“I won’t deny that it’s hard living without proper documentation. Every time you see a police officer, you tremble and it shouldn’t be that way. I think many of us who don’t have legal status are afraid to report crimes because we know the consequences could be very serious,” said Dávila, a resident of Roseville.

Dávila said most undocumented immigrants don’t live in the shadows by choice, but by necessity. They fear deportation and if they have family, leaving their children behind.

“It is a very real threat and I believe more undocumented immigrants need to know that their local police officers are not going to ask them about their legal status, but rather, demonstrate that they care about protecting them, “said Dávila.

Hahn spoke openly about the work flow of police officers and other law enforcement officials and stressed the importance of Latinos understanding the nature of their job, the stresses that come with the job and the very real worries and situations they face day in and day out.

“We have extraordinarily stressful jobs but our duty is always to protect. We see deceased bodies on a regular basis and visit coroners almost daily. It’s sometimes hard to see the fear in human beings when we become so desensitized,” said Davis.

Law enforcement officials are worried that recent media reports depicting law enforcement officials and community members in heavy altercations involving violence have not generated positive reactions and instead misled entire communities about the behavior and attitude of law enforcement officials toward Latinos.

There are still many stereotypes and myths that exist about the Latino community that are not true.

“It is unfortunate that so many immigrants have been painted with the same brush after one undocumented immigrant killed a young woman in San Francisco. But, it also doesn’t help that we currently have presidential candidates exacerbating the problem” said Hahn.

In order to foster a better relationship between law enforcement and Latinos, officials encourage community members to contact their nearest police or sheriff’s department.

“We have ride-alongs available; you can schedule an appointment to come talk to one of our officers. We have special programs that explain our training and how we serve the community. We have workshops on gang prevention and presentations in both English and Spanish that are meant to encourage a dialogue,” said Sacramento Police Lt. Dan Monk.