Utah’s second largest-city is also the state’s most diverse. West Valley City’s population is 45 percent ethnic minorities, which can create language and cultural barriers in schools, at work and on the streets. But Saturday, the Latino Community Center aimed to tear down some of those walls by inviting law enforcement to talk with hundreds of local residents.
West Valley Police Sergeant Mike Powell spent part of his weekend meeting with members of the Latino community at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.
Having worked in in the city for 12 years, Powell has seen the Latino community grow into what it is today. According to the last census, one third of West Valley residents are Hispanic, and 32 percent reported speaking a language other than English in their homes. Powell is one of a handful of officers who are bi-lingual. Now he, along with several other police officers and community leaders are doing more to reach out residents and make sure they know public safety includes everyone.
“Really we want the communities to know...especially the Spanish speaking community that this is an effort we need to put together. You live in our community we want to get to you we want you to feel comfortable coming to us, and we want to be able to come to you at the same time. There is no reason to be afraid at all. We’re here to help.”
Julio Otay, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Latino Community Center says Saturday’s presentations and question-and-answer sessions were held to make sure everyone is aware of what the laws are.
My hope is that we can have the Latino community comply to those rules and to those laws so that the Police Departments job is a little bit easier. So, the main purpose of them is to catch the criminals and who is not responding to those laws.
Jose Cuniga and his wife Marta moved to West Valley from Mexico seven years ago. Up until Saturday, the couple had not had a single interaction with law enforcement in the state but that changed with a quick conversation about the department’s bi-lingual officers.
“I think it’s better..it’s good. I like the police it scared me but I like...because they’re safe and everything.”
Sgt. Powell says getting people more comfortable with officers is a win win for everyone in the community.
“We want them to know that if there is a concern, if they don’t feel safe, if they are a victim of a crime we want them to come forward and talk to us. And it goes both ways obviously sometimes we are going to need to go to them and ask them for information if they witnessed something, if they have information about something they might be able to turn around and help us.”
The Latino Crime Prevention and Public Safety Fair is held every year.