Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner discussed Hispanic immigration issues and police-community relations at a public forum Saturday afternoon.
Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner takes part Saturday in a public forum on police relations with the city’s Hispanic community, one of several recent community-outreach events arranged by the Police Department.
About 100 people, most of them Spanish speakers, attended the question-and-answer session at Mosaic Church on Colonel Glenn Road. Buckner repeated the Police Department's policy on illegal immigration early in the discussion. He said police leave immigration enforcement to the federal government.
Buckner said the department contacts immigration authorities only in violent cases and felony cases.
Hispanic groups across the country have questioned whether local police departments will enforce stricter immigration and deportation policies enacted by President Donald Trump. Police in New York, California, Illinois and numerous other states have reported policies similar to Little Rock's.
"I have no control over the White House," Buckner said Saturday. "I have no control over the state. I do have control over how you are treated in our city by our police."
The forum was one of several Buckner has recently attended as part the department's effort to strengthen its relationship with Hispanics, who account for about 7 percent of Little Rock's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Another part of that effort has been recruiting. The majority-white department has focused on hiring more Hispanics in recent years and will continue to do so, Buckner said Saturday.
Eleven percent of the officers hired since June 2014, when Buckner was sworn in as police chief, have been Hispanic, according to the department.
The department has also started a Spanish-language citizens police academy and sent Spanish-speaking officers to churches and neighborhood meetings to build trust.
But some who spoke at the forum Saturday said they still felt uneasy about the department. One woman told Buckner that an officer behaved inappropriately toward her and another woman four years ago, and she never reported it because she feared retaliation from the officer.
Another woman said the department had wrongfully refused to help her obtain a U visa. That's a nonimmigrant visa issued to crime victims and their family members if they help authorities in prosecuting or investigating a case.
Buckner, flanked by two Spanish-speaking officers, said he understood why people might feel uncomfortable asking the department for help. But he encouraged them to report officer misconduct and other mistakes, warning that not doing so can make matters worse.
"People who know you are afraid to speak up are more likely to mistreat you," he said.
Buckner spent most of the forum speaking through a translator, but switched to Spanish to emphasize certain statements. He said he hired a tutor to help him learn Spanish three months ago.
Forum attendees Nicolas Trujillo and his wife, Cecelia Chacon-Trujillo, said they appreciated that Buckner was learning the language.
"One way that people start to begin to connect is through communication," she said. "So he's made an effort to learn Spanish, and I know these people in here are also making an effort to learn English."
Nicolas Trujillo said the Police Department's interest in the Hispanic community is the highest he's seen since he moved to Little Rock in 1990.
"I never felt that before," he said. "I don't think they actively reached out to the community like [Buckner] has. He's not only trying to educate our community, but he's also educating himself so he can understand us better."
Jason Smith said he traveled from Arkadelphia with his wife to attend the forum Saturday. He said they're Christians and want to help ensure that immigrants, legal or not, can live safely with "basic human rights and basic human dignity."
"I think we're in a moment with national politics where it's really divisive," Smith said. "And I think that it's important on a local level to show that we're supportive of our immigrant neighbors, whether they be undocumented or not."
Metro on 04/02/2017
Print Headline: LR police will leave immigration to federal agents, chief tells forum