The Medford Police Department is looking to hear from the local Latino and Hispanic communities and the agency's brass is ready to get an earful.
The department is working with Oregon Health Sciences University to conduct a survey gauging the opinions Latino and Hispanic residents hold about their local police force.
Medford police Chief Tim George said the department is prepared to get some tough answers.
"You don't ask the question if you are afraid of what you are going to hear," George said. "I'm certain that we are going to hear about some things that we are not doing and things that we need to do better when it comes to reaching out to Medford's Latino community."
OHSU reports that Medford's Latino and Hispanic population represents 12 percent of the city's population and is growing fast.
The survey will be disseminated beginning in the fall in the form of questionnaires and community meetings.
Some initial data has already been collected and the results indicated a "strained" relationship between police and the local Latino and Hispanic community.
OHSU reports that many in this community distrust the police and feel that the department has not made strides to bridge the cultural gap.
George was not surprised by these findings.
"I know for a fact that a lot of people in the Latino community believe that they will be deported when they deal with police," George said. "That's not what we do here at the local level. We are not (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). We are not in the deportation business and we don't want to be."
Many crimes that befall Latino and Hispanic victims are not being reported because of this fear, George said.
Lilia Caballero, the department's cultural outreach coordinator, is tasked with connecting with the Latino and Hispanic communities and convincing them that it's okay to call the police when they've been victimized.
"Some women who suffer domestic violence think that the Medford police are like the police where they come from," Caballero said. "They don't trust them for this reason. I want them to feel safe calling the police here."
The department has made a strong effort encouraging officers to become fluent in Spanish. The agency employees 16 fluent Spanish speakers, including three native Spanish speakers who work patrol shifts and in investigations.
Gena Criswell, the department's records supervisor, learned Spanish in school and uses it several times a week in the course of her job.
"It makes people feel safe coming here when you are able to communicate with them and listen to their problems," Criswell said.
Salvador Garcia, who is a community service officer working in the code enforcement division, said being bilingual is a valuable asset to working the public.
Garcia recently dealt with a man who did not speak English who received a letter from the department saying he needed to trim the weeds in his yard. The man could not read the letter and was concerned the police were angry at him for something serious.
Garcia was able to explain to the man that all he needed to do was cut his overgrown weeds to comply with city ordinances.
"He felt a lot better after I spoke to him," Garcia said.
The department awards bilingual officers with a 4.5 percent pay bump, George said.
"We want this department to accurately represent this community," George said. "We are hoping the results of this survey will help us achieve that."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email email@example.com.