Officers in the Los Angeles Police Department's Foothill Division brought an ongoing community relations campaign to the Latino community Thursday night, holding a Spanish-language forum on police procedures.
About 75 people attended the meeting at Haddon Avenue Elementary School in Pacoima, many of them community activists and members of neighborhood block clubs. They listened as Spanish-speaking officers discussed the use of force, procedures for complaining about police misconduct and other issues.
It was a Spanish-language version of the numerous public forums that have been held in the San Fernando Valley to improve police-community relations in the tense months after the March beating of Rodney G. King in Lake View Terrace.
"We know there are many people in the Hispanic community who are either afraid of the police or mad at the police," Capt. Tim McBride, Foothill Division commander, told the crowd through an interpreter. "These are the people we want to bring to these seminars so we can understand one another better." He said he hoped future meetings would draw bigger crowds.
Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the communities patrolled by the Foothill Division, making up 74% of the population in Pacoima, 52% in Sylmar and 20% in Sunland-Tujunga. In an effort to reach out to Latinos, the number of Latino officers has been increased in recent months.
A new policy requires a Spanish-speaking officer to be assigned to the station's front desk from 7 a.m. to midnight.
Even before the King incident spotlighted minority complaints about the Police Department citywide, Foothill commanders expressed concern that some Spanish-speaking immigrants were not reporting crimes because they were undocumented immigrants or had experienced police abuse in other countries.
Officers put a particular emphasis Thursday on the importance of reporting crime. "If you don't report crime, you are sending a message to criminals that they can do what they want in the street," Officer Minor Jimenez told the crowd.
Although some Latino leaders from the northeast Valley have complained in the wake of the King incident about police mistreatment of Latinos, the reaction in communities like Pacoima has been generally restrained.
Several people at the forum attributed this subdued response to a reluctance by Latinos to complain about police. Others said simply that the communities support the department.
Mario Sandoval and Clotilde Ochoa, neighbors from Pala Avenue in Pacoima, said that police misconduct is a problem but that they are much more concerned about drug dealers who operate openly in their neighborhood.
"I want them in my neighborhood," Ochoa said of the police. "And if they pass by every 10 minutes, that's great."