Orange County law enforcement says it is important that immigrants feel they are treated equally in the community.
Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass sat down with citations in hand. All six were cited for driving without a license. As the pages turned he read the reason behind the citation and disclosed the race of the offender-three Hispanics, one African American and two Caucasians.
Pendergrass is running for reelection in part on a platform of tolerance.
“My policy is everyone should get the same courtesy regardless of race. We don’t have problems with Hispanics in Orange County. As law enforcement we must treat everybody like we want to be treated because we are not here in servitude, but we are the servants of the people,” said Pendergrass.
Pendergrass has been in law enforcement since 1957 and credits his open-mindedness to previous law enforcers he worked under before becoming the sheriff.
“I had a couple of the best mentors in the Chapel Hill police department. Chief W.D. Blake was one that came to us in the summer of ’62 and said that sit-ins were going to begin. We were to go and do our job, but we were to be compassionate and understandable because we had to live here,” said Pendergrass.
“I also credit it to the great University of North Carolina. Even if you don’t attend or graduate from UNC-CH, a lot of that good stuff rubs off on you,” said Pendergrass.
In the sheriff’s office Hispanics are only brought in if they have committed a crime. Then they are entered into the system through fingerprinting. This enables the SBI, FBI and immigration services to monitor for repeat offenders.
“Unless it is a serious crime, they are not going to come in and deport a Hispanic. Immigration calls us, we don’t call them. Sometimes they will simply call in and ask to speak with the Hispanic before being released,” said Pendergrass.
According to reports available through the sheriff’s office, in 2009 the Orange County ran 280 sets of fingerprints through the system, and only 12 of those Hispanics were turned over to immigration.
Hispanics and other immigrants are dealt with in the same manner across the county by other law enforcement departments and many credit the unique behavior to the diversity of the area.
“When you are in a university town and you deal with student populations, you deal with well-educated people. Your thinking tends to be a little different about other cultures in trying to understand them, and the compassion it takes to deal with people coming from different backgrounds,” said Captain Booker of the Carrboro Police Department.
Carrboro and Chapel Hill police departments work diligently to have patience with the communication gaps and use the resources that are provided to them to understand as best they can.
Corporal Frye of the Carrboro police department said that officers have many resources available, including a language line where they can call and have someone translate if necessary.
“Usually Hispanics find someone to help them translate before police arrive and if we cannot find someone to help, then we have a language line that will translate back and forth for us. We do everything we can to communicate, and I don’t think we have any problems, it just takes longer,” said Frye.
It is not difficult for police departments to earn reputations of being hard-nosed or difficult when it comes to dealing with minorities in any fashion, but that is not the case in Orange County.
“Generally speaking, I think the officers bring a non-biased approach in dealing with the Hispanic population, and I say that honestly. I think our guys have bought into the philosophy of doing the right thing and policing has changed. It is more about the root of the problem and trying to point them in the right direction with the resources available so that they can live a better life,” said Officer Pardo, of the Chapel Hill police department.
“This community has progressed because of the attitudes of the leaders in the communities, the mayors, the aldermen, and the commissioners. Sometimes we are criticized in Orange County for being too liberal, but I don’t think we are so liberal that we would want someone harmed. We try to get along with people,” said Pendergrass.