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Hispanics to talk to Galt officials about police relations

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Posted: Sunday, November 5, 2006 10:00 pm

The Galt City Council will soon examine allegations that police officers may be targeting Hispanics on their traffic stops.

Council members Barbara Payne and Tom Malson promised more than 100 people at St. Christopher's Catholic Church on Sunday that they would bring their concerns about racial profiling to their council colleagues.

"The city of Galt is trying to come to you," Payne told parishioners during a meeting in the church sanctuary. "We want to hear from you."

Payne and Malson said they would bring five topics to the City Council at the request of the social justice committee at St. Christopher's. They range from continuing dialogue about police relations to adding more Spanish-speaking officers.

No one from the Galt Police Department attended Sunday's meeting.

Sunday's meeting of concerned parishioners follows up on an April meeting in which Spanish-speaking people said they were unfairly treated by Galt police.

Former St. Christopher's priest Jerry Ryle, who attended the meeting as co-chairman of a regional organization called Sacramento Valley Organizing Committee, said he didn't want to accuse Galt police officers of racial profiling.

"The purpose is not to bring up discrimination or racial profiling, but how to improve community relations," Ryle said, speaking to the audience in English and Spanish.

Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, who lives in Herald, told parishioners in both languages that what he's heard from Hispanics about their perceptions of Galt police officers isn't unusual. It happens throughout the nation, he said.

As a 12-year member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Reynoso said he has heard similar concerns about police relations from places like Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, South Dakota, Detroit, New York, New Jersey and Miami.

In Santa Rosa, Reynoso said he was surprised to hear conflicting statements by city officials and Spanish-speaking residents. The mayor and police chief said that a large majority of residents approve of Santa Rosa's police service, yet an overflow crowd of Hispanics complained about racial profiling by police officers.

"It's not just discrimination to individual, it's not being in touch with all aspects of the community," Reynoso said after the meeting. "Police are generally good people."

Issues to be tackled

Galt City Council members Barbara Payne and Tom Malson agreed on Sunday to bring five topics to the full council, at the request of the social justice committee at St. Christopher's Catholic Church. Goals are to:
• Continue dialogue with the community and work actively to resolve what the committee termed "unfair" traffic stops.
• Develop a complaint form in English and Spanish that residents could file toward the police department. The committee requested that complaint forms be available at City Hall, the police station and on the police department's Web site.
• Conduct a workshop for the community to understand the police department's procedures regarding traffic stops.
• Work toward hiring more bilingual police officers to have a police force that is more representative of Galt's diverse population.
• Require all police employees to take multicultural diversity training.
Source: News-Sentinel staff.

Cam Bullock, a member of St. Christopher's social justice committee, said he believes there has been progress between the congregation and city officials. The committee has been meeting with city officials since July to work out issues.

Al Luna, a heating and air conditioning salesman and president of the Galt Sunrise Rotary Club, said after Sunday's meeting that he hasn't seen improvement in Hispanics' relations with Galt police.

"For liberty and justice for some," Luna said. "The more money you have, the more justice."

But a majority of Hispanics don't have the income to be influential with city officials, he said.

"I believe the Mexicans are not organized," Luna said. "They're poor to start with. They have no way to file a class-action lawsuit."

Maria Duenas, a teacher at St. Christopher's, said she has seen some improvement, with police officers talking to parents to hear their concerns. Duenas serves on the English learners committee at Fairsite Elementary, Greer Middle and Galt High schools.

Ryle told parishioners it is important to become politically active to make life better in the community.

"It's important to have community groups like the one that formed here," Reynoso said.

It's also critical to talk to the police before things get more serious, he added.

"The real key is communication," Reynoso said. "Make sure it's thoughtful, and be heard."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

First published: Monday, November 6, 2006

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