Barrier Number One

“If we can communicate with people then, you know, I think some of these other fears and reservations may subside a little bit.”

from an interview with Michael Brickner, City of Valparaiso Chief of Police, 2013

Transcript for Barrier Number One

Michael Brickner, City of Valparaiso Chief of Police, 2013

Michael Brickner. I’m the chief of police of Valparaiso Police Department. I’ve been with the police department twenty-seven years, so a long time. I am pretty much a Valparaiso born and raised person. Went to school at South Haven Elementary School for a few years. I did go to Chesterton High School and have lived in Valparaiso or the surrounding area of Valparaiso practically my entire life. I lived in New Mexico for a few years, and my mom is Spanish. Her maiden name is Chavez and she was born and raised in Lordsburg, New Mexico which, unless you watch old Westerns, would never know where that is. You have a lot of Spanish-speaking people in New Mexico. You know, I was used to that because my mom speaks Spanish and she spoke Spanish to her brothers and sisters. She came from a family of nine. I wish I would’ve learned it. I picked up a little bit. I mean, I grew up a lot with the Mexican culture and understood some of the heritage and history behind it, so I mean, it’s part of who I am.

A lot of the individuals that we’re seeing move into Valpo now are from Mexico: the country Mexico. And that culture is even different than New Mexico, or southern Texas or, you know, that Hispanic culture. I am very familiar with, you know, the plight of the Mexican people from Mexico, you know, as far as dealing with law enforcement. Law enforcement in Mexico is corrupt and there’s a lack of—total lack of trust and cooperation so I understand that individuals that are moving here are coming from that and we have to work extra hard as a law enforcement agency to gain some trust because I feel that it would be very unfortunate to have people who are victims of crimes (which is happening) from this population that are not reporting it because they don’t trust the police or they don’t feel anything’s going to be done, or—but that’s the kind of culture they’re from. So we work hard at trying to, you know, build that trust but when it is ingrained, I think, in a culture, it’s a challenge.

You know, we’ve worked with people throughout the community sometimes if there are situations where, you know, we need to have somebody kind of in-between as a liaison, and that’s been helpful. We’ve worked with Gale Carmona who is an attorney here in town and she’s an advocate for the Spanish-speaking individuals, I think, non-citizens. And she has, you know, offered, you know, legal assistance for them for various things. You know, when it comes to driving offenses or how to get driver’s licenses, and she’s been a good point of contact as well over time. And Tomas Argon, who’s a minister here in town. I think Immanuel Lutheran is his congregation. And he’s been instrumental as well. So we have reached out and tried to make contact with individuals who we have a relationship with that will assist us.

But, you know, as we grow, the Hispanic population is a fast-growing population—not just here, but nationwide. And that’s something that is on our radar screen that we’re gonna have to be conscientious of and be able to deal with as a law enforcement agency so, you know, we tried taking some Spanish classes. And at least learn some basic communication skills. Because that’s—I think that’s barrier number one, is the communication barrier. And if we can break through that, then maybe we can get to the next step of at least establishing some rapport or a relationship to where if an individual is a victim, you know, we can at least communicate. We have a list of officers from other jurisdictions as well: East Chicago, Hammond, Lake Station where they have a pretty substantial Spanish-speaking population and they have a pool of law enforcement people that are on this list that we can call. I think if we can communicate with people then, you know, I think some of these other fears and reservations may subside a little bit.

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