Is crime up among Hispanics?
August 25, 2006
In Glenwood Springs, three men allegedly attacked and raped a 23-year-old woman. Later, the woman described her assailants as Hispanics. Following an attack at the “hot pots,” also in Glenwood Springs, a man from Rifle tells police his attackers also appeared to be Hispanic.These incidents, that occurred between Aug. 7 and 12, were part of an intense week for police, especially in Glenwood Springs. Though not all the alleged crimes involved Hispanics, the suspects in at least three, are, police said.Some police statistics show crime among Hispanics -as victims or suspects – has grown in the past years at the same pace the general population has. Statewide statistics aren’t available because the Colorado Bureau of Investigation doesn’t keep such information.In Avon, where 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, the total arrests from June 1 to Oct. 31, 2004, involved 161 Hispanics. In 2005, that number went down to 29 percent, and in 2006 – until July 31 – 143 of 369 arrests involved Hispanics.”Based on the statistics, I don’t see an increase of suspects or victims of Hispanic background,” said Avon Police Chief Brian Kozak. In Avon, the police started tracking crime by ethnic group in June 2004.Avon police department’s numbers show a decrease in Hispanic victims. In 2004, 32 percent of the victims were Hispanic, that number went down to 29 percent in 2005 and 22 percent by July 31, 2006.Crime sees no ethnic groupGary Ward, Eagle’s police chief who has lived in town since 1990, also said he has seen a proportionate growth in crime between Anglos and Hispanics.”Since the mid-90s we’ve got a lot of Hispanic families arriving to town, but I don’t notice a disproportionate growth in crime because of that,” Ward said. “More crime comes with growth. It doesn’t matter what ethnic background people are.”According to Ward, six or seven of every 10 calls to the police involve a Hispanic, either as a suspect or alleged victim.The Eagle County jail is a reflection of the community as well, says Capt. Bill Kaufman, the jail administrator.”At this time, we have 65 people were in charge of, of whom 33 are of Hispanic background or Hispanics,” Kaufman said. “Of that 33 percent, about one third are ‘ICE holds’ [detainees of the Immigration Customs Enforcement], who maybe could bond out, but they choose to stay here while their deportation procedures go on. That way they are closer to their families. The families work in the area, and it would be hard for them to travel to Denver for a visit.”Sheriff Edward Holt of Lake County, where the population has also reached 40 percent, said he noticed an across-the-board drop in crime.”The number of crimes committed by Hispanics remained similar to the rest of the population,” Holt said.By his experience, between 5 and 10 percent of the Hispanic community creates trouble, Holt said.”I don’t believe that is any different to the rest of the population,” he added. “We see the same people all the time, being Mexicans or Americans.”The majority of the Mexicans stay out of trouble,” he added. “They go to work, and they take care of their families.”To Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson, crime isn’t connected to any ethnic group in particular. According to the 2000 census, Hispanics represent 13.3 percent of the population of the city. In 2005, 27 percent of the arrests in Glenwood Springs involved Hispanics, compared to 25 percent in 2003.”This [crime] has to do with good and bad people,” Wilson said. “There’s good and bad people in all ethnic groups and all social classes. There are also people who, at some point, committed a crime, without being bad people, because they lost control, because they were provoked or because they were intoxicated with alcohol or another substance.”Most common crimesIn terms of the type of crime committed by Hispanics, Holt said that in the past two years he noticed an increase of sexual assault cases.”I suspect, based on what I’ve heard, that these people [Hispanics] have grown up in an environment where some things are allowed, and here they aren’t,” he said. “We see a lot of that. For example, the statistics for DUI are higher among the Hispanics.”The cultural aspect has an impact in the type of crime they commit,” added Holt, who recommends Hispanics take the “Living in America” course, where they can learn about laws and habits in the United States.In Avon, the most common crimes among Hispanics are illegal possession or consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct and domestic violence, Kozak said.”I don’t see that the type of crimes are any different than for any other ethnic group,” Kozak added. To Wilson, there are some crimes that are more common among Hispanics: driving without a license and without insurance, or fights, such as a recent one that broke out at a wedding party at the community center – or another one inside a Catholic church.”There are businesses that don’t accept parties any more because of this,” he added.Wilson said he can’t tell if there is a group or cell he can call a “gang.””At the beginning of the ’90s, there was a group of two or three Anglos who tried to start a gang, but after police watched them and captured them for other offenses, they went somewhere else.”In Eagle, the most predominant crime is domestic violence, but that’s across the board, not just for one ethnic group, Ward said.”We get several a week,” he added. “Apparently, many men are used to be in control in Mexico, and the laws are different here. I believe they are ignorant of the local laws. Many are happy to be here, and they don’t know they are doing something wrong.”Most of the crimes involving Hispanics aren’t felonies, Ward added.”Sometimes, we have a fight where someone pulled a knife”, he added.Do Hispanics report crime?Wilson believes many Hispanics don’t report crime because there is some lack of trust between citizens and authorities in Latin America, where many come from.”But this is changing,” he added. “I feel we’re getting more calls from Hispanic families than what we got 10 years ago. We also get a lot of people at the station, and many are Hispanics.” Wilson also believes that Hispanics tend to report fewer domestic violence cases.”Preventing and reporting crime are the bigger tools we have to fight crime,” Wilson said, adding that not reporting crimes is tantamount to handcuffing the police.In Avon, where none of the police officers speaks Spanish, Kozak believes that having bilingual officers would help with crime reporting.”We aren’t connected to the Hispanic community as we should,” he said. “And I suspect that a lot of that has to do with the language barrier. I also suspect many undocumented Hispanics don’t report crimes.”One problem, Kozak said is that it’s hard to find bilingual police officers. The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office helped out in a recent kidnapping case.”Next time we hire officers, that’s one of the things we’ll be looking at, to get someone bilingual,” he added.Communication problems also affect police’s chances of finding witnesses, Kozak said.”I want to tell victims, or potential witnesses, who don’t have documents to live here, that we will not investigate them for their immigration status,” Kozak said. “We treat everybody the same.”La Tribuna is a Spanish-language publication that covers the region.