By Janon Fisher PoliceOne Correspondent (c) Copyright 2000 PoliceOne.com (FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) -- With the United States facing one of the biggest immigration waves in 100 years, police are dealing more and more with people across language barriers and cultural differences.
Departments across the country are constantly challenged to come up with innovative ways to enforce the law without alienating immigrant populations.
For the Fort Lauderdale Police Department the task of reaching out to Broward County's Haitian population has many pitfalls, but the recruitment division is meeting the challenge head on.
Haitian Officers Wanted
Faced with a growing Haitian community, Fort Lauderdale police have begun an active campaign to recruit police academy applicants of Haitian descent. There have been advertisement campaigns in Creole-language newspapers and on Haitian radio stations.
Sgt. Charmaine Gittens-Jacques, the head of recruitment for the department, whose husband is of Haitian heritage, wants to fill at least two positions with Creole speakers that can communicate with that community.
"I'm targeting all groups, anyone and everyone you can think of, but at the top of our list are Haitians," she said.
Up to now the response has been lukewarm.
Language barriers and different cultural practices are enough to make policing more difficult, but add that to the general mistrust that many Haitians feel toward the police and the challenge becomes even greater. In Haiti the police force was often the tool of what has been a brutal regime.
"Our experience with the police force in Haiti has not been a pleasant one, for some that is why they left the country in the first place," said Fandor Saint Felix, a part time court translator in Fort Lauderdale.
Saint Felix said that he has seen these problems play out in the courtroom.
"The language barrier can bias an officer against a Haitian. I've seen it many times that a Haitian will get a ticket for a traffic accident because they were not able to explain what happened. The side with the other party gets the benefit of the doubt because they were able to explain what happened."
It's a dilemma that Gittens-Jacques is all too familiar with, but not one she is willing to accept as permanent.
"The biggest thing [prohibiting recruitment] is back in the island of Haiti [where] there is a big fear or distrust with the police," she said
But, she said, that makes the need for a Creole speaking officer all the more great.
"We think that having someone that they can identify with will go along way in helping them understand that policing in the United States is not the same as Haiti," the sergeant said.
On To Manhattan
After finding few willing and qualified recruits in Florida, Gittens-Jacques went on the road to an island much better known for immigrants: Manhattan, a/k/a New York City.
Last week John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, one of the leading schools in law enforcement studies, held a conference for its students to exchange information with state and federal law enforcement agencies.
"I feel sorry for the recruiting officer that doesn't have John Jay College in their Rolodex," said Gittens-Jacques.
She said that she passed out 600 applications the first day and nearly 400 the next, although not all to Haitians.
At least five applicants were of Haitian decent, though, and Gittens-Jacques said that she was very optimistic for them to come down to Florida and tryout.
Still, Raymond Exume, a Haitian social worker in Miami, said that there are other barriers that might prevent Haitians from becoming police recruits.
"Haitian parents will not look at their children being police officers as much of an accomplishment," Exume said.
"They don't look at it as a very high profile career."
But the need is apparent on both sides and the police department is making small steps outside of cadet recruiting.
The Fort Lauderdale department just filled the position of Haitian community relations specialist by bring a Creole-speaking woman onboard.
Although Gittens-Jacques could not release her name until an official announcement has been made, she said it was the first step in bridging the gap between the police and the community.
"She's going to be an immediate translator. [The department has] a large variety of community programs coming out of the Community Relations for everyone, she would facilitate communicating to the Haitian community," said Gittens-Jacques.
The deadline for the next entrance exam is January 26 for March 10 test.
Are you a LEO who is originally from Haiti, or do you know someone who is, and might be interested? If so, call (954) 720-FLPD and ask for Sgt. Gittens-Jacques.