New York City Police Seek Trust Among Immigrants

May 31, 2007

Author: Cara Buckley

Source: The New York Times

Sidique Wai slipped into a mosque in Harlem as afternoon prayers broke, a wisp of a man swimming upstream against the crush of robed worshipers spilling out. He stepped out of his shoes and walked briskly to the front of the prayer room. A microphone was pressed into his outstretched hand.

“How many of you know a police officer in this community?” he asked the two dozen or so men, his voice booming from crackling speakers. A lone hand was lifted.

“And how many of you talk regularly to a police officer?” Two arms went up.

“That is a problem,” Mr. Wai said. “The police are here to serve you.”

At that, other men stood up and walked out, too.

But Mr. Wai pressed on with the message that the Police Department had hired him to relay to Muslims and Africans throughout the city. The same message is repeated by police personnel like Detective Roberto Diaz, who works with Latin American groups; Officer Elvis Vukelj, the liaison to Eastern Europeans; and Officer Suk H. Too, who does outreach to Asian immigrants in Chinatown and Queens.

Trust the police and tell them your problems, they say. Do not be afraid to report crimes, even if you are here illegally, because the police will not question immigration status.

All four liaisons are members of the Police Department’s Community Affairs Bureau and work in the New Immigrant-Special Outreach Unit, which has grown to 20 members from 12 in the past year and a half. Their tasks are to make inroads and foster trust in the city’s kaleidoscopic and widening sea of immigrants, many of them distrustful of the police.