Bilingual bridges

    Bibiana Madera, 5, of Eagle Point, is greeted by Medford Sgt. Brent Mak during the first Spanish language Coffee with a Cop at the Medford library on Saturday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

    With questions ranging from the number of miles they travel to reasons police can stop a suspect, about three-dozen Spanish-speakers sat down with Medford police officers Saturday for a cup of java, a Mexican-style pastry and a casual conversation.

    Bilingual uniformed Medford police officers and more than 30 members of the local Latino community gathered at the Medford library Saturday morning for "Cafe con Pan," the agency's first Coffee with a Cop event held in Spanish to allow members of the Latino community the chance to voice their concerns and clear up their misconceptions in the language they know best.

    "Let's face it, the police don't usually show up when things are fine and well," said Sgt. Brent Mak, one of the Spanish-speaking cops at the event.

    The agency has held two prior events in English, with the idea of reaching out to different segments of the community in environments where people feel comfortable, according to Medford police Deputy Chief Brett Johnson.

    Reaching out to the Latino community made sense for the third session, according to Johnson, "especially in turbulent times on a national level."

    After his first conversation of the morning, Medford police officer Arturo Vega said locals shared with him known drug houses and asked him about police stop procedures they'd heard second-hand from friends.

    Later in the event, Annie Valtierra-Sanchez and Armando Lopez, involved with Latino participation for Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon, discussed community needs related to mental health resources. Medford officers Vega, Omar Esqueda and Salvador Garcia listened and then covered the guidelines and procedures police follow in a mental health hold and discussed the need for counselors.

    At the same table, immigration lawyer John Almaguer asked in English if the officers thought changing the state's 1987 "sanctuary law," prohibiting state and local police agencies for enforcing federal immigration law if a person's only crime is being in the country illegally, would affect community policing.

    Esqueda said that if the law changed, they'd lose the trust they've built with local Latinos to come forward when they see crime in their neighborhood.

    "We'll be going backwards from where we are now," Esqueda said.

    Southern Oregon University student Ricardo Lujan, active with progressive outreach group Unite Oregon, asked police in English their thoughts on Oregon House Bill 2355, intended to reduce police profiling as well as the severity of drug possession crimes.

    Regarding the bill's efforts to reduce profiling, Esqueda said the agency already follows most of the proposals in the measure.

    Vega expressed concern at what would happen if possessing user-level amounts of methamphetamine or heroin were to change to a misdemeanor. He said about 90 percent of crime is drug-driven.

    "They're either stealing to get dope or stealing to buy dope," Vega said. "It's horrible."

    When Lujan asked about ways to get more involved, the officers suggested he attend one of the agency's citizen's academies. One is held in Spanish for the Latino community each year, and one is held in English.

    As a member of the Latino community and an advocate for progressive causes, Lujan said the event went well and it was valuable to be able to sit at a table and have a discussion. He said understanding law enforcement's viewpoint is important.

    "I also want to understand their culture," Lujan said. "It's a two-way street towards everything."

    — Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.


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