Summit County lawmen to Latino community: “We’re not out to get people”
Summit County’s top lawmen have been holding Latino police academies for eight years, or in the words of Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, since “before it was cool.” The four-day education and outreach course was the first of its kind in the state, said the group of four town police chiefs and the sheriff that run the program.
Turnout was higher this year, with President Donald Trump’s promises to increase deportation causing apprehension among the immigrant community.
On graduation night last week, discussion focused on assuring the two-dozen attendees that Summit cops aren’t in the business of targeting Latino community members.
“We’re trying to work with everybody,” Frisco police chief Tom Wickman said while Breckenridge police officer Esteban Ortega translated. “It’s not about what they’re saying at the White House. We’re not out to get people.”
Dillon resident Javier Dominguez, who leads advocacy group Unidos por la Igualdad (United for Equality), said the events were important not just to educate Latino residents but also build trust with police.
“This is a good community with very good relationships,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re an immigrant or not, we’re still friends. So we’re very lucky to live in this community.”
When asked, the attendees said that for the most part, rumors about immigration enforcement had subsided somewhat — in part because of efforts by police to engage the community and clarify their limited role in immigration enforcement.
Police chief John Minor said that in the 12 months he has led the police department of Silverthorne — a town where 22 percent of the population is Latino — U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement has only asked for his help finding one person.
“I asked them, ‘What did he do?’” Minor said. “They said, ‘He’s an MS-13 gang member convicted of multiple felonies.’”
He had also been deported nine times before and was being charged with another federal crime, Minor said, so his department assisted in the arrest.
“So that’s the only example I can give you of who they’re looking for,” he said. “One time, in 12 months, one person. And I helped them because this man was going to victimize our community and I wanted him gone.”
Rumors can be difficult to stamp out, however. FitzSimons recounted a recent incident when a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services worker arrived at Summit Middle School to interview a child whose parents were applying for a green card.
CIS agents don’t have enforcement powers, FitzSimons said, and the child’s parents had agreed to the interview as part of the verification process. Nonetheless, word started getting around that ICE was showing up at schools.
“That’s why it’s so important that if you hear something going on, stop the rumors,” FitzSimons said. “Just because the word immigration is in their titles, people thought they were ICE officers.”
Many of the questions last week were about ICE agents at the courthouse. Those presumably stemmed from recent news reports of immigration arrests at the Denver courthouse.
Police sought to assure attendees that ICE wouldn’t be at the Summit County court unless they were looking for a specific high-level offender.
“How many people here know someone who was randomly contacted (by ICE) at our court?” Dillon police chief Mark Heminghous asked.
A couple of hands went up, but two of the anecdotes were people targeted after felony convictions and one was actually in Glenwood Springs.
“That’s not happening in Summit County,” FitzSimons said. “It’s really important to separate the national rhetoric from what’s happening here.”
After about an hour of questions, attendees were called up one at a time to receive their completion certificates. Dillon resident Emmanuel Grijalba said he thought the course had helped ease some of the concerns in the Latino community.
“It’s about trust, and it’s really important for people not be scared just because a cop is behind them,” he said. “I think people are feeling better. They’re starting to realize that if you don’t do anything wrong you don’t need to be scared.”
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