In an effort to foster a more transparent relationship with its Latino residents, the Burlington Police Department has launched a Facebook page in Spanish. The page, titled “Departamento de Policia de Burlington," is the Spanish counterpart to the department’s pre-existing page in English.
Officer Roberto Davila is one of two Spanish-speaking officers of the department’s roughly 80 patrol officers. He said the new Spanish Facebook page is a great resource for Latino residents to find information about the department, and for officers to be “close to the community.” Davila said he has been with the Burlington PD since last August, and has seen a growing relationship with the city’s Latino population.
“We try to gain their confidence and trust, and having a Facebook in Spanish is a great way to communicate with them so we can answer their questions and get involved,” Davila said.
The Spanish-language page includes information on upcoming events and media releases for the roughly 8,000 Latino residents in Burlington. The catch is that Latino residents must be online in Burlington to get this information. But as of Tuesday, the page already has close to 150 “Likes” on Facebook. Davila said he sees Facebook as a popular tool among this community.
“From what I see when I encounter Latino people in the community, they are the ones using Facebook most of the time,” he said.
A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that Latinos are just as connected as other groups when it comes to going online with a smartphone and using social media sites. The research also showed that when Latinos use the Internet, they are more likely than whites to use social media.
Blanca Nienhaus lives in Burlington and is an activist with the Latino rights group LUPE (Latinos Unidos Promoviendo la Esperanza). She said she has seen more Latinos explore Facebook recently, but in the end, this new resource from the Burlington PD is about promoting a mutually beneficial realtionship in an innovative way.
“I am confident the page will have a great response because the Latino community is eager to be included,” Nienhaus said. “Inclusion goes both ways, if you reach out to a segment of a community, then that community will respond by reaching back out.”
The Spanish Facebook page comes as the Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson awaits a ruling on federal allegations of racial profiling. Last year, Sheriff Johnson was accused of arresting and detaining Latino residents in places like traffic stops without probable cause.
But Nienhaus said Latino attitudes toward law enforcement in Burlington are growing because Chief Jeffrey Smythe is making an effort to listen to the Latino community. The Spanish Facebook page was born out of a community-based strategic planning session in April at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. Chief Smythe said in a statement that Spanish-speaking residents who attended the meeting requested the social media platform, and the department listened and delivered.
Nienhaus was at that meeting. She said she strongly advocated for the Facebook page, and saw it as a big step forward for Alamance law enforcement. Nienhaus has been working with the Burlington PD in providing immigrants with FaithAction ID's, cards that do not substitute as driver's licenses or green cards, but give immigrants a form of identification.
“I wish that all law enforcement had the same attitude as we've seen (in Burlington). I am not asking for anything but fairness, and that you do not make distinctions depending on the color of your skin or the way you look,” she said. “When people give themselves the chance of opening up a little bit, they realize they have more in common with Latinos than differences.”
Along with a Facebook page in English and Spanish, the police department’s web presence includes an English-language Twitter account and a video from Chief Smythe on its website explaining some of the department’s programs.