El Protector is coming! But some in the Latino community are wondering who he is and why he is here.
Citing statistics that a disproportionate number of Latinos are arrested throughout the county by the California Highway Patrol for driving under the influence of alcohol, the CHP announced Thursday the start of a public awareness campaign aimed specifically at the Latino community.
According to the CHP figures, Latinos accounted for 68% of driving under the influence (DUI) arrests in the San Diego area (from the border north to Via de la Valle) last year. In Oceanside, the ratio was 84%. In the CHP's El Cajon sector, it was 35%. In both the Oceanside and El Cajon sectors, the number of Latinos arrested rose from 1988's figures.
The increase in Latino arrests and the number of Latinos involved in DUI traffic collisions has prompted the CHP to begin the program in San Diego and Orange counties, said Max Gallardo, coordinator for Hispanic Public Affairs for the CHP.
The figures were drawn by hand-searching two years of arrest reports and counting the number of Latino surnames, Gallardo said.
El Protector, better known as CHP Officer Roy Huerta, and four bilingual officers will be available to speak to Latinos about rules of the road and the consequences of driving under the influence. The officers will also speak to students at schools throughout the county, Gallardo said.
The CHP scheduled the kick-off of the program to coincide with the start of the Cinco de Mayo festivities throughout the county.
"You can't expect people to obey the law if they don't know what the law is," said John Martinez, a CHP spokesman.
But a number of people who work with Latinos in drunk-driver programs throughout the county were skeptical about the figures and the intent of the program.
Patrick Horton, director of the Drinking Driver program for Occupational Health Services, a private social services group in San Marcos, urged caution before making any conclusions about the program.
"You have a population that is being targeted by the (alcohol) beverage industry," Horton said. "So, if you have someone trying to prevent (alcohol) abuse--more power to them."
But, Horton said, there are also other factors that can account for the high number of Latinos represented in the arrests. Latinos, particularly those with low incomes, may stand out more to law-enforcement officers and therefore may account for the high number of arrests.
The drinking driver program run by Occupational Health Services is divided into 23 groups. Of those, eight are made up of Latinos. The remaining groups are made up mostly of Anglos.
Elsewhere, Maritza Garcia, director of the drinking driver program for the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee, a private, nonprofit group in Chula Vista, echoed Horton's concerns.
In her program there are about 450 clients, of which 35% to 40% are Latinos, the rest Anglos and blacks.
Gallardo, the CHP coordinator, was asked about the concerns that Latinos are being stereotyped as drunk drivers.
"You can misinterpret this. But we are targeting the population for education and information, not law enforcement," he said. "If they (Latinos) didn't know the law, they will be informed. . . . There are English-speaking officers out there, why shouldn't there be Spanish-speaking officers reaching out to the community?"