Diversity Council, law enforcement leaders working on collaboration
A fascinating discussion was held recently between the Wenatchee Diversity Advisory Council and Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett and Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown.Burnett and Crown were invited by the council to build relationships and trust and learn about the community challenges of law enforcement in the valley.
The council, led by co-chairs Carrie Moody and Misael Fajardo-Perez, wanted to learn more about issues facing law enforcement, especially as it relates to minority groups like Latinos. Council members were curious to learn about hiring practices (how departments might hire more Spanish speakers to build relationships with the Latino community), as well as talk about outreach efforts that might better connect law enforcement and the community. Following the discussion, Burnett, Crown and leaders of the Diversity Council all said that the discussion was helpful.
Discussions about race and law enforcement are fraught with challenges these days, given the highly charged atmosphere around the country that has surrounded the Black Lives Matter movement and some high-profile shootings of civilians and police officers. “It was an opportunity to have a dialogue on issues that are hot topics right now with racial tensions,” said Fajardo-Perez, a Lutheran outreach pastor. “It’s easy to not talk about,” he said, and so the subject is often avoided.
The City of Wenatchee has been doing some excellent work in the past few years reaching out and building connections to neighbors in South Wenatchee, which has a large Latino population and where there are some significant poverty issues.
The city’s efforts paved the way for the United Neighborhood Association in South Wenatchee to begin working to improve a part of the city that had been long neglected by the city. UNA president Manuel Valencia is often at city hall as are other leaders of the Latino community.
The Diversity Council members were particularly interested in ways that the Wenatchee Police Department might reach out to neighborhoods, especially in South Wenatchee, said Fajardo-Perez. At one point, the department had a neighborhood center on Methow St., but serious city financial difficulties meant reducing staff and limiting outreach, Crown told me. Now that the city is on firmer financial footing, engaging the community more proactively is a priority, Crown said.
The Diversity Council’s effort to encourage deeper relationships in the community is a recent initiative. The council is also very involved in promoting cultural events, supporting diversity training efforts and youth activities, but advocacy has been a lesser priority. Former Diversity Council chair Donte Quinine was instrumental in getting the constructive advocacy effort launched. The former Wenatchee Valley College employee had a knack for bringing people together and creating an environment where people could find common ground.
Both Crown and Burnett told me that building stronger relationships with the community is a priority for them.
Having more officers who speak Spanish is a priority, but there are not enough qualified candidates, Burnett said. He said he told the group that some brainstorming is needed to help identify strong candidates and encourage them to choose law enforcement as a career. Effective law enforcement is all about relationships, Burnett said. “We’re looking for partners,” Burnett said. “I don’t know that we have all the right answers,” he added.
Building stronger communities begins with open and honest conversations and collaboration. Those are principles that are at the core of the grass roots-driven Our Valley What’s Next community development effort. As part of that effort, the Diversity Council is going to be leading an initiative to develop greater civility in the community.
The open and constructive dialogue between law enforcement and the Diversity Advisory Council is a positive step forward.