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Latinos, police come together in Lorain

Posted at 8:16 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 20:16:31-04

LORAIN COUNTY, Ohio — Moving beyond the phrase "to protect and serve."

"I just wanted to get to know the community," said Alan Dunbar.

Lorain County has one of the largest Latino populations in the state.

"It behooves us to know our neighbor, understand our neighbor," said Dunbar.

Shortly after taking over as commander for the Ohio State Highway Patrol Elyria Post, Dunbar connected with El Centro.

"He's like, 'Oh, my God, I'm just finding, I'm just learning that. So, I can imagine some of my officers doesn't know that as well,'" said Victor Leandry, El Centro Social Services Director.

That connection over the course of two years eventually led to a training session that was rolled last week out for troopers at the Elyria post.

"This is the first time this training has been done with the Highway Patrol anywhere in the state," said Sgt. Ray Santiago.

Leandry highlighted some of the barriers that can often exist between Latinos and law enforcement.

"You have those moments of fear or misunderstanding," said Leandry.

The misunderstandings often stem from something as simple as someone's identification.

Many Latinos include their mother's maiden name at the end, but that is not their last name.

Depending on how they're entered into the system, they could have multiple identities that then raises a red flag.

"Just a cultural misunderstanding that can get a little tricky," said Santiago.

Santiago said he has been able to keep a handful of people from going to jail or being investigated because as a Latino, he knew how to run their ID.

"There was value to bringing that to a law enforcement training setting," said Santiago.

They also focused on cultural differences including body language among some Latinos from rural areas who Leandry described as very humble, simple people.

They might look away when pulled over, not because they're guilty of something.

"The eye contact is not there is a sign of respect," said Leandry.

Leandry and OSHP trying to break down barriers and raise awareness to better serve and protect a rapidly growing population in Lorain.

"We are the number one city and the number one county of having the highest Latinos in Ohio," said Leandry.

Leandry said they plan to roll out this training to police departments across Northeast Ohio.

A cultural crash course that organically grew out of Alan Dunbar's desire to improve community and police relations.

"I'm just so excited to work with Victor and to continue our relationship going forward," said Dunbar.