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Home  |  News  |  “Building Unity in the Community” -- Deputies Work With Hispanic Population to Ease Fears and Strengthen Partnerships

“Building Unity in the Community” -- Deputies Work With Hispanic Population to Ease Fears and Strengthen Partnerships
Monday, June 27, 2011

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC - “Building Unity in the Community” -- Deputies Work With Hispanic Population to Ease Fears and Strengthen Partnerships, by Sheriff Leon Lott

Over the years, as your Sheriff, I have seen many positive changes in our communities. I am proud of all of our Deputies and their commitment to the community. Everyday, they're out there learning more about the areas we serve while teaching all citizens about the many programs we have available. I want our programs and services to reach everyone no matter where you are from or citizenship -- we will help everyone at anytime! This is truly an example of how we are building "Unity in the Community".

As an army brat Richland County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Rafael Gonzalez has lived all over the world. He settled in Richland County when his father retired from the Army. Lt. Gonzalez spent 5 years in the Air Force traveling through Central and South America as an interpreter. That is when he says he first realized the importance of having an Hispanic liaison to help break language barriers- both overseas and here at home.

When Lt. Gonzalez returned to Richland County he applied at the Richland County Sheriff's Department and was hired. He now oversees the Community Actions Team (C.A.T.), Gang Unit and Hispanic outreach/on call program.

"I came on at a time when there was a large outreach for Hispanic officers. The Hispanic communities were really growing in the area," says Gonzalez.

The need for the Hispanic citizens to communicate with law enforcement officers meant the need to hire more Spanish speaking officers like Gonzales. "To let the Hispanic community know they have that outreach means a lot," says Gonzales.

Senior Deputy Raul Ortiz also recognizes the importance of educating everyone about the need for a language "bridge". The Puerto Rico native came to the States in 2001. Since then, he has been working at the Department making positive changes and building trust among the Hispanic communities.

"They know that if something happens they will get results. They know us by name and so they feel comfortable enough to talk to us about problems they are seeing," says Ortiz. "We will always do our job whatever the crime... but we are there to help with that particular crime and are not concerned with immigration status."

Each Sheriff has their own ideas they follow; they have the ability to direct their officers to focus on different things. I find major crime is a priority. If someone is a victim of a crime, they will be treated as a victim regardless of immigration status. It's important the community knows we are here to help.

"I think it's important to raise awareness about calling 911," says Gonzales. "If you call, you will not get in trouble if you have not committed a crime."

Ortiz agrees that 911 education is important. It's one of many topics he discusses on his weekly radio show La Raza on 840AM (Wednesday's 12-1pm). He also uses the time to promote the many grassroots efforts planned to let the Hispanic community know the Richland County Sheriff's Department is here to help.

"We have created events that have really made a difference in the morale of the community. We appreciate the significance of those partnerships we have developed," says Ortiz.

As your Sheriff, it's important to me that everyone in the community receives assistance without regard to race, color, creed, sex or nationality status. I am proud of how Lt. Gonzales, Sr. Deputy Ortiz, Sergeant Maria Yturria (in our Victim Services Unit) and other members of the Richland County Sheriff's Department are dedicated to protect and serve the people of Richland County.

If you, or someone you know, have any information regarding any crime, you are encouraged to contact Crimestoppers. You could earn a reward up to $1,000.

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