Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Public safety

Clearwater police work to build trust with Hispanic crime victims

CLEARWATER — Bruised and shaken, she walked into the Hispanic Outreach Center seeking help.

Her ex-boyfriend had stalked her and beaten her at a bus stop in Largo, the woman told a family advocate at the center. Police there couldn't speak Spanish. She couldn't speak English.

The advocate photographed the bruises on her legs and back. When the Clearwater Police Department's Hispanic outreach officer, Raymond Croze, approached her, she was in tears.

He tried to calm her, the same way he has done dozens of times with other immigrants who come forward to report a crime but are fearful of police.

"You're not going to be deported," he told her. "We're here to help you."

For more than a decade, the Clearwater Police Department, in partnership with the nonprofit InterCultural Advocacy Institute, has operated the Hispanic Outreach Center to gain the trust of Hispanic residents in Clearwater and other North Pinellas communities who are victims of crimes or have other needs.

This year, more than 100 people have stopped by Croze's office to report crimes, revealing a segment of criminal activity that targets low-income, undocumented, Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Croze also signed off on more than 30 U Visa applications, which many undocumented immigrants are eligible for if they are victims of a crime.

Many more crimes, Croze suspects, go unreported.

"Sometimes, when they come in here," he said, "you can see the fear."

• • •

Inside his office at the Hispanic Outreach Center near downtown, Croze hears the stories. Women in abusive relationships. Workers denied pay by their employers. Victims of immigration scams.

Robberies are among the most common crimes reported to Croze. Many immigrants carry large amounts of cash because some banks don't accept international identification cards and many immigrants don't trust banks.

Police reports tell the story of how the robberies take place. One example: On March 30, a 44-year-old man, originally from Mexico, was riding a bike along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. Two men were walking on the sidewalk. They separated to let him ride past.

"He started to ride between them," the report states. "And they both struck him several times in the face and knocked him off of his bike."

While he was sprawled on the ground, the men stole his watch, phone, bicycle and $40, the report states.

Croze hopes to organize an event at the center to inform residents about the dangers of carrying cash.

"Unfortunately," he said, "a lot of the bad guys know that a lot of people in the Hispanic community don't put money in the banks."

Domestic violence cases, and sometimes sexual assault cases, are also reported to Croze.

"There's a misconception of what a woman should take and not take. There's that misconception of, well, he's the man. What he says goes," Croze said. "I try to tell them: You can leave."

Scams are also among the reports. In August, a man distributing business cards in Clearwater told another man and his cousin, both undocumented immigrants, that a Department of Motor Vehicles employee in Broward County could get them driver's licenses for $1,000 each. The cousins traveled to Deerfield Beach and met a man outside a DMV office. They each gave $1,000 and their Mexican passports to the stranger, who told them to go inside the office for help.

"After waiting for some time, they asked the receptionist about their wait," a report says. "She told them that she had no idea what they were waiting for."

The stranger didn't work at the office. The men returned to Clearwater and reported the scam to Croze. The case remains under investigation.

• • •

Many immigrants move to Clearwater from countries where government and police are viewed as abusive and corrupt. Once they're here, the fear continues.

"I let them know as soon as I can that it's not that way here in the United States," Croze said. "I'm not going to extort money from them."

On one occasion, a man visiting Croze's office for help asked him: Cuánto? How much?

"There's no fee," Croze replied. "Gratis. Free."

Many are also scared to report a crime because they are undocumented, said Clearwater police Chief Anthony Holloway.

"I don't care where you're from," Holloway said. "If you're a victim of a crime, you're a victim."

Sandra Lyth, chief executive of the InterCultural Advocacy Institute, said having Croze work at the center is a major advantage.

"One of the reasons an officer is assigned here," she said, "is to make that person readily available in a nonthreatening environment where there are other supports available."

In addition to Croze's office, the center at 612 Franklin St. provides an array of services for the immigrant community, including victim advocacy, youth services, legal clinics, family advocacy, and occasionally, the Mexican consulate.

When the center opened its new building in 2002 next to the Clearwater Police Department, Lyth said she received some criticism about the location.

"I had people take me aside and say, this is not going to work," she said. "They felt that it was too close to the Police Department. There was too much lingering connection in the minds of the Hispanic community with local law enforcement … that trust would be just too hard to build."

But since it began in 2001, the Hispanic Outreach Center has provided more than 25,000 services, she said.

The Hispanic community has surged in Clearwater in the past decade. The 2010 census showed that Clearwater residents who identified as Hispanic increased by 56 percent over the 2000 number, totaling 14.2 percent of the city's population of nearly 110,000 residents.

"The numbers," Lyth said, "speak for themselves."

Clearwater police will soon have a second person, community liaison officer Michael Hatch, as a contact and resource for the Hispanic population in east Clearwater.

Neither Hatch nor Croze is fluent in Spanish, but both are learning, and they use translating tools the department purchased this year that connect officers with live interpreters. Staffers at the center also help Croze with translations.

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected]

Comments
Residents wonder what’s next after fire destroys Tampa apartments (with video)

Residents wonder what’s next after fire destroys Tampa apartments (with video)

TAMPA — When her apartment complex caught fire Monday afternoon, Peaches McIntyre grabbed her four children and baby stroller and ran outside.Hours later, she looked at the smoldering building with her 5-year-old autistic son, Choice Underwood, huggi...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Mother, sons lose everything in fire -- except her daughter’s urn

Mother, sons lose everything in fire -- except her daughter’s urn

ST. PETERSBURG — The day after a fire claimed most of Jahmeshia Jackson’s possessions, the 27-year-old mother returned to the house she and her sons had escaped, trying to salvage what she could. She hoped her washer and dryer still worked. But most ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Tree trimmer shocked by power line in Clearwater, authorities say

Tree trimmer shocked by power line in Clearwater, authorities say

CLEARWATER — A 38-year-old tree trimmer is in critical condition after he was shocked by a power line Monday, according to Clearwater Fire & Rescue.Ernest Harlen, of Largo, was on a ladder cutting trees with a pole saw when he was shocked just before...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Father of Seminole Heights victim repairing damage after vandals hit son’s memorial

Father of Seminole Heights victim repairing damage after vandals hit son’s memorial

TAMPA — Weeks after burying his son Anthony Naiboa, one of four people gunned down over the span of 51 days in Seminole Heights, Casimar Naiboa has a new and unwanted ritual.He drives past a makeshift memorial his family made for his son, set up wher...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Bomb strapped to man explodes in New York subway; 3 hurt

Bomb strapped to man explodes in New York subway; 3 hurt

NEW YORK — A man inspired by the Islamic State group set off a crude pipe bomb strapped to his body Monday in a crowded subway corridor near Times Square, injuring the man, slightly wounding three others and sending New York commuters fleeing in terr...
Published: 12/11/17
Lakewood High on lockout after report of weapon on campus

Lakewood High on lockout after report of weapon on campus

Lakewood High in St. Petersburg was placed on lockdown Monday morning following reports of a weapon on campus, but the threat was later downgraded and the school was placed in lockout status instead. St. Petersburg Police spokeswoman Sandra Bentil s...
Published: 12/11/17
Firefighters brace for second week of California wildfires

Firefighters brace for second week of California wildfires

LOS ANGELES — As Southern California enters its second week engulfed in flames, fire officials anticipate more growth and danger due to continued strong wind gusts, no rain and decades-old dry vegetation. A powerful flare-up on the western edge of th...
Published: 12/11/17
Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

When the fire chief asked if anyone in the room had fallen before, a few in the gray- and white-haired crowd raised their hands. One woman lost her footing as she was answering the phone. Another saw a palmetto bug, sprayed it with repellent, then s...
Published: 12/11/17
‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

Popular comedian Hannibal Buress was arrested Saturday night in Wynwood on a disorderly intoxication charge after an encounter with a police officer.Buress, 34, was booked into a Miami-Dade jail at 1:57 a.m. Sunday and posted bail just before 6 a.m.,...
Published: 12/10/17
Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida Uber driver is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a drunken passenger.The Orlando Sentinel reports that 38-year-old Jorge Alberto Antunez Quintero was charged this week with sexual battery after an investigation ...
Published: 12/09/17