October 26, 2022 at 7:15 p.m.

Opening lines of communication

Opening lines of communication
Opening lines of communication

By Ben Sonnek- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

SCPD, local Hispanics sign community policing agreement

With the signing of Sauk Centre’s community policing agreement, local law enforcement officers are working to ensure the area’s Hispanic population knows its legal rights to prevent stress and misunderstanding at traffic stops. On their part, the Sauk Centre Police Department is renewing their commitment to fair policing and avoidance of racial profiling.

Prior to the Oct. 19 Sauk Centre City Council meeting, members of the local Hispanic community came to Sauk Centre City Hall to meet with Sauk Centre Police Department Chief Bryon Friedrichs and other city officials. There, Friedrichs and a number of community members signed the community policing agreement, with Friedrichs taking questions afterward.

The Sauk Centre community policing agreement does not represent a change in policy for the SCPD; rather, it lets the department know the concerns of the Hispanic population while letting the people know what their rights are and what comprises local policing policy.

“(The agreement is) stuff our department’s been doing for years,” Friedrichs said. “It’s impartial policing, hiring practices, the accountability of the police department and the complaint process.”

Fe y Justicia out of Waite Park spearheads requests for community policing agreements in Minnesota. The movement began in St. Cloud in 2005 when residents noticed how the St. Cloud Police Department was disproportionately stopping African-Americans.

“The citizens felt they needed to put something in place,” said Patty Keeling with Fe y Justicia. “We needed to sit down with the police department to talk and write an agreement, which took a long time. It’s supposed to be reviewed every year, but it wasn’t reviewed until 2018 when we began noticing, with our (Hispanic) community, that the immigration issue was not addressed. We wanted that to be put in the agreement, so we brought that forward.”

Community policing agreements were also compiled with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies in cities such as Cold Spring. In the case of the SCSO, the main topic of concern was the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests occurring in the county, so the Hispanic population wanted to be clear that the SCSO was not focusing on calling in ICE to arrest and deport people.

Traffic stops were the main issue for Sauk Centre’s Hispanic community. Some of them have difficulty procuring licenses, and from what they can tell, they have been targeted by traffic stops for that reason alone, often by the same officer.

“We just want to go to work, go to Walmart, so we’re not doing anything, but they see us and pull us over,” said Hispanic Sauk Centre resident Irene Ruiz Gomez. “My sister-in-law, she got three tickets in one month because they know her (and) they know the car.”

Many unlicensed Hispanic motorists still have insurance, but without the license, it costs them about three times more than usual, sometimes in the area of $100-150 per month. If they forgo insurance, then the driver will get a more expensive ticket and will have the car taken away.

Unfortunately, the lack of clear communication between Hispanics and law enforcement has led to fear and mistrust.

“Sometimes we get scared if we even see an officer,” Gomez said. “We don’t want to see him.”

During a traffic stop, some Hispanic drivers are not aware they have the right to ask why they have been pulled over.

“We also say to take video if there’s more than one person in the car,” Keeling said. “Even if there isn’t, you take your (phone) camera, turn it on and set the video there. It’s another step to have proof of what they said to you, because oftentimes – and we’ve had this happen – they write the name down wrong. We’ve had people end up in jail because of that.”

On his end, Friedrichs does not condone racial profiling in traffic stops and encourages anyone who believes that have been a victim of it to come to the department to file a complaint.

“If I get a complaint like that, I’m going to look into it and see if there’s profiling going on or anything else,” Friedrichs said. “If it’s proactive law enforcement our department does and I see nothing wrong with the traffic stop, then it’s nothing I’m going to approach the officer about. If the person doesn’t have a license, if their registration isn’t current and they’re pulling them over for unlawful things, it’s part of what we do.”

When it comes to undocumented immigrants, the SCPD is not looking to get any law-abiding residents deported.

“We’re not out there trying to send anyone back to another country,” Friedrichs said. “If they’re involved in criminal activity, then we’re going to turn them over to (ICE). Otherwise, if they’re a working person in the community and have a license and insurance, that’s not our main concern.”

Friedrichs does not see any downsides to Sauk Centre’s community policing agreement and hopes it opens up lines of communication beyond traffic stops and complaints, helping residents feel more comfortable with their local police.

Fe y Justicia is also pushing for legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses – something they don’t feel is unreasonable, considering how unlicensed drivers can still buy insurance. Minnesota used to allow licenses for the undocumented immigrants, but Governor Tim Pawlenty wrote an executive order against it in 2008; Keeling knows a major objection to issuing driver’s licenses to the undocumented involves how they could be used to illegally vote.

“Our communities know that, if they use (their license) to vote, they will be barred from the country,” Keeling said. “They will be deported if that would be found, and so to put themselves in that danger isn’t worth voting.”

Keeling encourages people to write to their senators and representatives if they want to show support for reinstating driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

“The law is written; it’s just a matter of getting them to sign it,” Keeling said. “We had it passed through the house for several years, but we couldn’t get it through the senate. We had people, Republicans, saying they were willing to pass it, but they wouldn’t put it up for a vote.”

Gomez also hopes the legislation will become law someday.

“It’s not that we don’t know how to drive,” Gomez said. “Even in our country, we have licenses and all that stuff, but they’re not valid here. We know how to drive.”


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