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9743: Haitian-American officers band together to build bridges to communities (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitian-American officers band together to build bridges to communities
By Gregory Lewis
Staff Writer

November 26, 2001

Yves La Fontant, a member of the Florida International University police 
force, kept meeting young Haitian-Americans who would say they were 
interested in law enforcement.

And then he would meet other Haitian-Americans who had been stopped by 
police and did not understand why they were in trouble with the law.

Fellow FIU police Officer Eddie Halaby was encountering similar situations.

So La Fontant and Halaby began rounding up all the Haitian-Americans in law 
enforcement they could find in the region. They began meeting last month and 
formed the Haitian American Law Enforcement Officers Association Inc.

Florida City Police Chief Marc Elias is the highest-ranking Haitian-American 
in South Florida law enforcement.

"We need more like him," La Fontant said. "There needs to be more Haitians 
in law enforcement. I am sure there are a lot of qualified Haitians. But 
many of them think it is harder to get in than it is."

The forming of the organization could be a key component in aiding law 
enforcement agencies in South Florida as well as improving police-Haitian 
relations, which suffer from language and cultural differences.

The language problems contribute to mistrust. Haitians often complain that 
they are the ones who get ticketed in traffic accidents, for instance, 
because of the communication barrier.

Haitians also believe police are unfair in situations involving children. 
The immigrants discipline their children as way they would in Haiti. 
However, when children are beaten and bruised in the United States, it's 
called child abuse, and it's against the law.

"The organization formed and is attempting to bridge that gap," Elias said. 
"The organization is moving toward getting in touch with other police 
chiefs, mayors and city commissions, and asking, `How can we best assist 

In his third year as chief, Elias said he a strong believer that police 
departments should be reflective of the communities they serve.

Aside from himself, there are two other officers of Haitian descent, both 
men, on the Florida City force. Elias said a third is expected to join the 
department soon, and he is trying to recruit a Haitian female as well.

"Only a Haitian can reach another Haitian," Elias said. "It's the same way 
for blacks, Hispanics and whites."

The group's spokeswoman, Lydia Kordalewski, said more than 100 
Haitian-Americans had been identified in the region, which includes 
Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm and Monroe counties.

Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne said forming the organization "is very good 
news" because he sees it as an outlet to help him attract more 
Haitian-American deputies to his 4,100-person force.

"We have a legal and moral obligation for all law enforcement to be 
reflective of the community," he said. "The bad news is that throughout a 
metropolitan area of 4.5 to 5 million people, there are only 100 
Haitian-Americans participating in law enforcement." There are only 31 
Creole speakers at the Broward Sheriff's Office.

Jenne said the organization could be used to "help us recruit. The 
organization will be very helpful in giving us credibility and helping 
Haitians understand that American police are not like police in Haiti."

The organizing of Haitian police officers is another sign of the demographic 
group's growing political sophistication in South Florida and a good example 
of Haitian-Americans attempting to take care of their own.

The association is open to nonlaw-enforcement officers, but only those 
connected to police operations can serve on the board, Kordalewski said.

"We want to promote and advance the needs of present and future law 
enforcement officers of Haitian descent," said La Fontant of the FIU police 
force, "and to support goals, objectives and programs including those that 
pertain to education, advancement, economic development and other collective 
and individual operations."

"We now have 50 members that are law enforcement officials and are looking 
to recruit more at our next meeting," Kordalewski said. The 
nonlaw-enforcement members "are our boosters and help us out with research, 
training and volunteer programs."

Jenne said the Sheriff's Office has made an effort to recruit more Haitian 
deputies including spreading fliers in Little Haiti, going to Haitian 
churches and doing radio talk shows on stations that cater to Haitians and 
other Caribbean people.

"We do it on a regular basis, but it's so hard because of the years of 
oppressive government [in Haiti]," he said. "It is hard to convince people 
this is a different way of life."

La Fontant said that in the sizable Haitian communities of Palm Beach 
County, including Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton, Haitian 
officers would be an asset to police-community relations.

The Haitian American Law Enforcement Officers Association Inc. will meet 
Dec. 22 at the Surfside Community Center in Surfside. For more information 
about the organization, e-mail Lydia Kordalewski at uzilady@aol.com.

Gregory Lewis can be reached at glewis@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4203
Copyright  2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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