By Raymond Rose, Chief of Police, Mundelein, Illinois, Police Department; Michael O’Brien, Deputy Chief, Mundelein, Illinois, Police Department; and Eric Guenther, Deputy Chief, Mundelein, Illinois, Police Department
he village of Mundelein, Illinois, is a diverse community both culturally and financially. The department has been actively engaged in the community policing philosophy since the early 1990s. Community policing centers on the premise of identifying and resolving issues through the formation of community partnerships. These partnerships also help build trust between police departments and the residents they serve. With a growing Hispanic community—currently 24 percent of Mundelein’s population of 34,000—the need became paramount to create, promote, and sustain programs and communication that serve the needs of the Hispanic community. Over the years, the Mundelein Police Department has participated in several programs that focus on interaction with the Hispanic community, including the following:
1. Hispanic resource centers. These centers, located in Whitehall Manor apartment complex (now known as The Park Butterfield), the Oak Creek Plaza Shopping Center, and downtown at the Omni Youth Center, are staffed by Spanish-speaking officers and Omni Youth Center employees and offer a consistent point of contact for members of the Hispanic community. These centers promote communication and build trust.
2. Project C.A.P.E (Creating A Positive Environment). This assembly consists of members from a cross section of the community that develop strategies to identify and deal with quality-of-life issues such as gangs, alcohol and other drug abuse, and substandard conditions for minorities in the community. From this assembly, nine subcommittees or action groups were formed: the Community Center Committee, the Education Committee, the Family Programs Committee, the Human and Community Resources Committee, the Image Development Committee, the Multicultural Committee, the Neighborhood Watch Committee, the Youth Committee, and the Mundelein Task Force.
3. Mundelein Amigos Community Coalition. This group comprises various organizations that work together to reach out to Hispanic community members and offer information they can use on a daily basis. Coalition partners include the Village of Mundelein Administration and Police Department, School District 75, School District 76, School District 120, Santa Maria Del Popolo, the Fremont Library, and the Mundelein Park District.
These programs and several others center on reaching out to Mundelein’s Hispanic residents in true community policing fashion. Through these community partnerships, the police department has gained a better understanding of the Hispanic community’s needs. One need that came to light was the need to better communicate with and serve victims of crime in the Hispanic community.
In 2006, the Mundelein Police Department was selected by the IACP as one of three police departments to be a pilot site to develop a strategy and implementation guide for the Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims of Crime project. More information on the IACP victim initiative can be found at http://www.responsetovictims.org.
In the early stages of the Enhancing Law Enforcement’s Response to Victims initiative, Mundelein police sought to establish a baseline of data regarding how crime victims were served. They utilized random surveys to gather information on whether or not residents had been victims of crime, and, if they had, if these victims had reported the crimes to police. To get a true picture of the service level, the police department needed to reach out to all Mundelein residents. In particular, the department wanted to find out what the Hispanic residents’ concerns were and to partner with residents to resolve any real or perceived issues.
Focus groups were set up with victims of violent crimes and property crimes for both English-speaking and non-English-speaking residents. Mindful to avoid revictimization of these individuals, police found that making contact was somewhat problematic. Traditionally, Hispanic families do not always report crime to police departments because of a lack of trust based on their experiences in their countries of origin. An inability to speak English and the fact that some victims may not be in the country legally and fear being deported prevents many from contacting the police if they are victims of crime.
The Mundelein Police Department used its current contacts from community partnerships and explored new ways to reach out to Hispanic crime victims. Spanish-speaking police officers searched the records management system for all identified Hispanic crime victims. The officers called each victim and asked if each was amenable to participating in a focus group to discuss how the police department responded to the incident, what was liked and disliked, and what more the police department could do in the future. The officers spent countless hours on this task and made more than 500 telephone calls to Hispanic residents. They also partnered with a local Catholic church at which announcements were made during the mass conducted in Spanish and a letter was written and distributed to all churchgoers as they entered and exited the church.
Telephone calls and handouts resulted in commitments from many Hispanic crime victims to attend and participate in the focus groups. Understanding that Hispanic residents may not be comfortable meeting at the police station, police scheduled the focus groups to be held at the local high school and conducted by a neutral third party. Babysitting services were made available for those victims with young children. As a further incentive, dinner was catered for all participants and their families.
The week prior to the focus group, a neighboring community with a large Hispanic population held a sting operation targeting residents who were in the country illegally. This sting received a lot of media attention and emphasized the low level of trust between law enforcement and Hispanic residents. On the night of the focus group, only six Hispanic community members attended. The overall turnout was disappointing, highlighting the importance of Mundelein’s efforts to continue building relationships with its Hispanic community.
The information provided by this small group was extremely beneficial and mirrored what the non-Hispanic victims’ focus group discussed. In this small group, some of the predicted fears were identified. One participant reported that the law enforcement officials in her country of origin were corrupt and could not be trusted. She said that she would rather see a criminal walk through her door than a police officer. However, many participants reported they were proud to live in the United States and wanted to give back in some fashion. They were concerned about street gangs, drugs, and the issues their children face in school. They all wanted a safe community in which to raise their children and felt they could help by becoming involved.
Communication or lack thereof was the number one concern expressed by focus group attendees. A lack of Spanish-speaking police officers hindered communication efforts. At the time, the department had two police officers that were bilingual, and it continues to address this issue in its village-wide recruitment plan. Participants reported that police officers were supportive, concerned, and patient with victims while completing the reports. Referrals to service providers for family counseling were said to be appreciated and helpful. However, participants felt that communication sometimes broke down once the case went to court. Although the complaints were directed at the court system, the Mundelein Police Department took the opportunity to change and improve its efforts to communicate the court process with Hispanic victims of crime.
In response to information received during the baseline gathering, the project committee developed a Victim Assistance Notification (VAN) form that is now issued to all crime victims at their initial contact with an officer.1 This form, printed in English and in Spanish, outlines vital information for the victims, including case number, police contacts, and resources available to the victim such as contact numbers and descriptions of Mundelein’s most commonly used service providers. The biggest concern for Hispanic crime victims was the communication barrier and the lack of knowledge on what resources exist to help them. The VAN form addresses these concerns and creates a bridge to the communication gap. Following the Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims project, officers now stay more engaged with these residents who have been victims of crime. Police officers have acted as victim advocates for many crime victims to assist them in getting additional information from the state’s attorney’s office or crime victim service providers. Officers have also made telephone inquiries about case statuses on behalf of crime victims and passed along information to them.
Successes did not occur overnight, but rather happened over the course of several years. Through the Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims project, the Mundelein Police Department took the opportunity to reexamine its community policing philosophy to ensure that it was benefiting the entire community. It could not be applied at certain times in certain situations. The village of Mundelein felt that the department had an obligation to reach out to its community, regardless of barriers that may exist. Crime occurs in all populations, no one is immune to it, and, therefore, the police planned new ways to work to understand the concerns of the community. Through the victim service project, officers learned that while many of the concerns remain consistent, unique circumstances exist for different groups and will change over time. This is a process that must be identified, addressed, and revisited periodically to ensure the police department is providing the services that the community deserves and needs.
With community policing in mind, the Mundelein Police Department worked hard to partner with its Hispanic community on a variety of issues and continued to address the communication barriers identified in the focus groups. Officers participated in numerous opportunities to strengthen their bonds with Spanish-speaking residents, including participating in English as a Second Language classes and providing information on topics such as how to obtain a driver’s license, familiarization with local ordinances, and gang member identification. The police department has hosted Hispanic parenting academies designed to teach Hispanic parents about drugs, gang recognition, and other issues their children are facing of which parents might not be aware. Police also hosted a community picnic in a neighborhood with a large concentration of Hispanic residents. Finally, each holiday season, the police department sponsors a Holiday Help program in which it partners with several local businesses and distributes turkeys and bags of groceries to needy families, many of which are Hispanic.
Singularly, each of these events or programs is important as Mundelein works together to make the community a better place to live. Together, community members’ involvement builds partnerships with Hispanic residents. This partnership increases Hispanic residents’ trust in the Mundelein Police Department, and, in return, Hispanic residents are willing to participate in other programs to make Mundelein a better place to live and raise families. Even though sometimes it is necessary to expend extra effort to make sure that all groups feel comfortable interacting with the police, this effort should not be done to the exclusion of other groups. As found in the victim services focus groups, Hispanic residents expressed the same concerns as their English-speaking neighbors. Any event, program, or initiative will not be successful unless all members of the community are invited to participate, and the best-case scenario is that these interactions and events will bring the entire community together. ■
1Mundelein Police Department, Victim Assistance Notification form, http://www.responsetovictims.org/RESOURCES_DOCUMENTS/TS_Links/5_Victim%20Assistance%20Notification%20Form.pdf (accessed January 24, 2011).
Please cite as:
Raymond Rose, Michael O’Brien, and Eric Guenther, "Promoting Victim Services to the Hispanic Community," The Police Chief 78 (March 2011): 56-58.