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9743: Haitian-American officers band together to build bridges to communities (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Haitian-American officers band together to build bridges to communities
By Gregory Lewis
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gregory Lewis can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4203
Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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