Police work to prevent Hispanic victimization

DULUTH - No seas una victima - don't be a victim - police warned a small gathering of Hispanic reporters and community leaders Friday.

At a kickoff to a public safety program targeting the Latino immigrant population, members of the Gwinnett County Police Department hosted a public forum at the Santa Fe Plaza in Duluth. Maj. Rick Edmunds told the group that 470 of more than 900 robberies reported in 2005 involved Hispanic victims.

To combat the problem, the department has designed posters and pamphlets to be placed in residential and business areas that are predominantly Hispanic. Additional patrols are being conducted on weekend nights when muggings are frequent in the apartment complexes near Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Indian Trail Road and Beaver Ruin Road.

"Hispanic victims are walking through their complex, and people are cruising the complex looking for victims," Edmunds said. "They take their wallet, whatever they can from these victims, and then they run off."

The robberies appear to be heavily concentrated in the southwestern portion of Gwinnett in several maps pinpointing robbery locations that were distributed at the gathering. At least one of the holdups last year resulted in a fatal shooting, and about half a dozen other victims were injured, Edmunds said.

Most of the unsolved homicides in Gwinnett County also involve Hispanic victims, according to Gwinnett police Detective G. Lorenzo, one of two Spanish-speaking detectives in the department.

The pamphlets advise Hispanics not to walk or remain in parking lots for long periods by themselves, not to open the door for strangers, avoid shortcuts through dark or wooded areas, and not to carry large amounts of money or wear lots of jewelry.

Reporters from local Hispanic newspapers such as Atlanta Latino, Mundo Hispano, La Voz del Pueblo and Georgia Latino News all turned up to cover the story. State Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, was also on hand, and he praised police efforts to reach out to Hispanics.

"I applaud Gwinnett County police for starting this initiative," Marin said. "As a citizen, you have to step up to the plate. The message has to go to everybody. We need to get the trust from the community back to police."

Another focus for police will be improving communication with the Latino community, because officials fear many incidents are not being reported. Hispanics often distrust law enforcement, Edmunds said.

Spanish-speakers were encouraged to call Gwinnett 911, even though they may not get a bilingual dispatcher. Police said dispatchers can connect callers to Language Line, a translation service paid for by the county, to relay information.