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Old 12-07-2009, 03:33 PM
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Default Perris police and Latino community leaders meet to build trust

Perris police and Latino community leaders meet to build trust
The Press-Enterprise
For months, Latinos in Perris complained that Riverside County sheriff's deputies stopped them for no reason. Some charged racial profiling. Mistrust festered.
The sheriff's office denies the allegations but subsequent meetings that sheriff's officials had with Latino community leaders -- and changes in how Perris-area deputies interact with Latino residents -- have yielded increased trust and reduced complaints.
Capt. James McElvain, who heads the Sheriff's Department's Perris station, spent several hours answering questions at a November town-hall meeting initially organized to educate residents about their legal rights, said Luz Gallegos, community-programs director of TODEC Legal Center, a Latino group in Perris and co-sponsor of the forum. Gallegos and others met with McElvain and City Manager Richard Belmudez several days before.
Prior to the meetings, TODEC regularly received complaints of alleged racial profiling, Gallegos said. The group hasn't received a single complaint since. "The community feels he's listening and actually questioning his officers," Gallegos said. Perris is 70 percent Hispanic, according to 2006-08 census estimates.
One of those who complained to TODEC was Gilberto Madera, 23. Madera said he was stopped Oct. 14 by a sheriff's deputy for no apparent reason.
"He said I looked suspicious," Madera said in Spanish.
Madera did not have a driver's license, and his car was impounded for 30 days. He paid $1,750 to retrieve it. Madera believes he was pulled over "for being Mexican. For racism."
Gallegos said her father was stopped last year and asked to show his license. The deputy allegedly said he was pulled over because "it was just your turn" and let him go after he showed his license, Gallegos said.
Some Latino residents, including illegal immigrants, do not have licenses and believe police were stopping them in the hopes of citing them for license violations, Gallegos said.
McElvain said he does not believe deputies were engaging in racial profiling. Motorists were typically stopped for expired registrations, cracked windshields and other violations and then checked for licenses, he said.
McElvain said he asked deputies how they approach people they stop and learned that some go through the reasons quickly and do not clearly state on the ticket the reason for stops, instead writing vehicle-code numbers that motorists may not recognize.
"I believe they acted accordingly and in the way they've been trained, and they acted professionally," McElvain said. "But we are so well-rehearsed in our spiel to the public that we sometimes forget that people are nervous and might not speak English as a first language ... If people think the only reason they're being pulled over is that they're Hispanic, that's a problem. They should drive away knowing why they were pulled over."
Deputies are being instructed to explain more carefully the reason for a stop, he said.
McElvain said police will continue to impound cars of those caught without licenses. Unlicensed drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents involving fatalities, and the number of traffic fatalities in Perris has plummeted over the past several years as police ramped up checks of licenses, he said.
Nighttime license and driving-under-the-influence checkpoints will also continue, he said.
But, at the request of the Latino community leaders he met with, he agreed to look into other cities' more lenient approaches toward unlicensed drivers.
McElvain said he also plans to propose that local Latinos accompany deputies on ride-alongs, to get to know officers better. He hopes some Spanish-speaking Latinos will agree to teach Spanish to deputies, to decrease misunderstandings.
Belmudez said that, after the meetings, Latino residents better understand why police are cracking down on drivers without licenses.
"There's a reason we're giving the tickets: to make this a safer city," he said. "It's not to put people in fear and make their lives more difficult."
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