ALBANY, Ga. -- An Albany Police Department community outreach spurred by last December's spike in crime targeted against Hispanics is welcomed by the community, said Ramiro Alvarez, owner of San Joe's restaurants.
"It is good that the (Albany) police are introducing themselves to the growing Hispanic community," Alvarez said. "The police are saying that they are here to serve us, too. People have to realize that the police here are not like the police in Mexico. The police here are on the community's side."
Last year police reported that in November and by Dec. 9 there were nine crimes against Hispanics, including aggravated assault, home invasion and robberies.
"There have been assaults with knives and firearms," APD spokeswoman Phyllis Banks said at the time. "(Meijia Vincente Cruz)
Eduardo was shot while he worked on his car."
Eduardo survived the attack by two teens who demanded money from him. He was shot in the abdomen when he said he didn't have any.
The crime increase led the police to initiate an outreach program to engage the Hispanic Community. As point on the outreach program, police Cpl. Jorge Lopez went door to door in east Albany, where he said most of the Hispanic community lives, to hand out pamphlets in Spanish and explain the services available.
"It is good for them to do that," said Lidia Olds, a member of the Spanish Coalition that sometimes holds meetings at Darton College. "People have to know the police are there to help them."
Olds said she would also like to see officers given lessons in Spanish to help make residents feel more comfortable.
"They wouldn't have to know much, maybe just a few phrases at first,"Olds said. "Spanish-speaking people should learn English, but it would help the police to know a little bit of Spanish."
There are no plans to hire Spanish translators at present, Police Chief John Proctor said. But it is his goal to have officers that serve all members of the community.
"We have a Spanish-speaking officer and we have tried to recruit Spanish-speaking officers, but we also need recruits who can do the job," Proctor said. "We are doing our best to serve the entire community."
Among the efforts police are making is the Spanish-speaking APD-COP Tip Line, (229) 434-2677.
In an emergency it is best to call 911, but the APD-COP Tip Line will put Spanish-speakers in touch with Lopez or other Spanish-speakers for advice on crime prevention and to accept tips on suspicious behavior or crimes.
The Spanish APD-COP Tip Line had a surge in calls at first but it has dropped off, Lopez said, adding that the reason for the drop could be that the crimes seemingly targeting Hispanics have dropped off.
Police crime analyst William Sparks said, "I ran through the system for all incidents involving Hispanic residents. Since July 1 we have had only one incident with a Hispanic victim, and it was for domestic violence. There is nothing else in the way of robbery, aggravated assault or burglary."
Crime Stoppers, a crime tipline, has also joined in reaching out to the Hispanic community. Booklets explaining the Crime Stoppers program in Spanish are available at the Law Enforcement Center at 201 West Oglethorpe Blvd.
The number for Crime Stoppers is (229) 436-8477.