Hispanic crime tracks population, cops say | VailDaily.com

Hispanic crime tracks population, cops say

Veronica Whitney and Omar Cabrera

EAGLE COUNTY – In Glenwood Springs, a 23-year-old woman is allegedly attacked and raped by three men. Later, the woman described her assailants as Hispanics. Following an attack at the “hot Pots” also in Glenwood Springs, a man from Rifle also tells police his attackers appeared to be Hispanic.These incidents, which occurred between Aug. 7 and 12, were part of a week of intense calls to the police, especially in Glenwood Springs. Though not all the alleged crimes involved Hispanics, the suspects of at least three, are, police said.The statistics of some police departments show that crime among Hispanics -as victims or suspects – has grown in the past years at the same pace the general population has.Statistics for the state of Colorado aren’t available because the Colorado Bureau of Investigation doesn’t keep such information yet.In Avon, where 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, 35 percent of the total arrests between June 1 and Oct. 31, 2004, involved Hispanics. For the entire year of 2005, that number went down to 29 percent, but through July of this year, that number is up to 39 percent, police reports say.”Based on the statistics, I don’t see an increase of suspects or victims of Hispanic background,” said Avon Police Chief Brian Kozak. In Avon, the police started keeping track of crime by ethnic group in June 2004.In terms of victims of Hispanic origin, Avon police department’s numbers show a decrease. In 2004, 32 percent of the victims were Hispanic – that number went down to 29 percent in 2005 and 22 percent by July 31.

In Eagle, the chief of police, Gary Ward, who has lived in town since 1990, also said he has seen a proportionate growth in crime between Anglos and Hispanics.”Since the mid ’90s we’ve got a lot of Hispanic families arriving to town, but I don’t notice a disproportionate growth in crime because of that,” Ward said. “More crime comes with growth. It doesn’t matter what ethnic background people are.”Of about 10 calls the police get every week, six or seven involve a Hispanic either as a suspect or alleged victim, Ward said. The Eagle County jail is a reflection of the community as well, says Capt. Bill Kaufman, the jail administrator.”At this time, we have 65 people we’re in charge of, of whom 33 are of Hispanic background or Hispanics,” Kaufman said. “Of that 33 percent, about one third are “ICE holds” (detainees of the Immigration Customs Enforcement), who maybe could bond out, but they choose to stay here while their deportation procedures go on. That way they are closer to their families. The families work in the area, and it would be hard for them to travel to Denver for a visit.”Sheriff Edward Holt of Lake County – where the Hispanic population also reaches 40 percent – said he noticed a decrease in crime across the board in his county.”The number of crimes committed by Hispanics remained similar to the rest of the population,” Holt said.Only between 5 percent and 10 percent of the Hispanic community creates trouble, Holt said.”I don’t believe that is any different than the rest of the population,” he said. “We see the same people all the time, being Mexicans or Americans.”The majority of the Mexicans stay out of trouble,” he added. “They go to work and they take care of their families.”To Glenwood Springs chief of Police, Terry Wilson, crime isn’t connected to any ethnic group.According to the 2000 census, Hispanics represent 13.3 percent of the population of Glenwood Springs. In 2005, 27 percent of the arrests in there involved Hispanics, compared to 25 percent in 2003.”This (crime) has to do with good and bad people,” Wilson said. “There’s good and bad people in all ethnic groups and all social classes. There are also people who, at some point, committed a crime, without being bad people, because they lost control, because they were provoked or because they were intoxicated with alcohol or another substance.”

In terms of the type of crime committed by Hispanics, Holt said that in the past two years he noticed an increase in sexual assault cases.”I suspect, based on what I’ve heard, that these people (Hispanics) have grown up in an environment where some things are allowed, and here they aren’t,” he said. “We see a lot of that. For example, the statistics for DUI are higher among the Hispanics than among Americans.”The cultural aspect has an impact in the type of crime they commit,” added Holt, who recommends Hispanics take the course “Living in America,” where they can learn about laws and habits in the United States.”They get here and they continue to do what they are used to,” Holt said. “Still, many Hispanics lead very productive lives.”In Avon, the most common crimes among Hispanics are illegal possession or consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct and domestic violence, Kozak said.”I don’t see that the type of crimes are any different than for any other ethnic group,” Kozak said. To Wilson, there are some crimes that are more common among Hispanics. Among those: Driving without a license and without insurance; driving vehicles registered to somebody who isn’t the owner; and fights, such those that recently broke out at a wedding party at the city’s community center and another inside the Catholic church.”There are businesses that don’t accept parties any more because of this,” he added.In regard to gangs, Wilson said he can’t tell if there is a group or cell he can call a “gang.””At the beginning of the ’90s, there was a group of two or three Anglos who tried to start a gang, but after police watched them and captured them for other offenses, they went somewhere else,” Wilson said. In Eagle, the most predominant crime is domestic violence, but that’s across the board – not just for one ethnic group, Ward said.”We get several a week,” he said. “Apparently, many men are used to being in control in Mexico and the laws are different here. I believe they are ignorant of the local laws. Many are happy to be here, and they don’t know they are doing something wrong.”In all, most of the crimes involving Hispanics aren’t felonies, Ward added.”Sometimes, we have a fight where someone pulls a knife”, he said.

One of Wilson’s concerns is his belief that many Hispanics don’t report crime because of a lack of trust between citizens and authorities in their home countries.”But this is changing,” he said. “I feel we’re getting more calls from Hispanic families than what we got 10 years ago. We also get a lot of people at the station, and many are Hispanics.” Wilson also believes that Hispanics tend to report less domestic violence cases.”Preventing and reporting crime are the bigger tools we have to fight crime,” Wilson said.In Avon, where none of the police officers speak Spanish, Kozak believes that having officers who are bilingual would encourage the reporting of crimes.”We aren’t as connected to the Hispanic community as we should be,” he said. “And I suspect that a lot of that has to do with the language barrier. I also suspect many undocumented Hispanics don’t report crimes.”Kozak said it’s hard to find bilingual police officers. For a recent alleged kidnapping case in the town, Kozak said he got help from the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.”Next time we hire officers, that’s one of the things we’ll be looking at, to get someone bilingual,” he said.Communication problems also affect police’s chances of finding witnesses, Kozak said.”I want to tell victims, or potential witnesses, who don’t have documents to live here, that we will not investigate them for their immigration status,” Kozak said. “We treat everybody the same.”Vail, Colorado

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