Immigration advocates gathered outside the Suffolk County Police Department’s 3rd precinct in Bay Shore on Wednesday to call for speedier efforts to improve relations with the Hispanic community.
New York Communities for Change led the group, who described continued incidents of difficulty in the Hispanic community dealing with police a week after the Department of Justice wrote a 28-page letter to County Executive Steve Levy offering advice on improving hate crimes investigations.
“The big problem in my case was when every time I call the police I never get somebody that can understand me right,” said Tatianna, a Suffolk resident who didn’t want to give her last name. “I know they try to understand me and I try to understand them but what happen is we don’t get really the right communication.”
“What can I do?” she asked. “I’m foreign here.”
The advocates held the news conference on Fifth Avenue outside the stationhouse for the precinct that patrols Brentwood and Central Islip, two of the most heavily Hispanic communities in Suffolk.
The department has been the focus of a two-year-old federal investigation into its response to hate crimes amid allegations that police failed to pick up on warning signs that preceded the death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero by a group of teenagers in Patchogue in 2008.
The advocates pointed to stories like Tatianna’s as evidence that many Latino’s still feel disenfranchised and feel there still are not enough translators to deal with emergency situations.
“They should provide services of translation for the Hispanic community because we are a big group,” said Alba Aquino, a Central Islip resident who spoke through an interpreter. She also said there’s a need for more Hispanic cops on the streets.
Suffolk County police refuted the claims later Wednesday in a press release detailing initiatives addressing such concerns, like hiring more Spanish-speaking officers and 911 operators, training those who don’t, providing phone translators in each precinct and offering documents and its website in Spanish.
“The department has focused a tremendous amount of resources to ensure that persons with limited English proficiency are able to effectively communicate during interactions with members of the Police Department and gain equal access to our services,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said in the statement.
While some advocates commended the steps the department has taken, several Latino immigrants said they have yet to see it trickle down to police on the streets.
Margarita Espada, 45, who came to Long Island 10 years ago, said cultural misunderstandings can cause confusion in her hometown of Central Islip.
“I think the change needs to be [deeper],” Espada said. “Sometimes they don’t understand why people behave in that way. Many of [us] are laughing, we are screaming, we are not fighting, we are just celebrating.”