Mass. town hires Brazilian as dispatcher

The growth of the Brazilian community prompted police to recruit employees and officers who speak Portuguese.

By Tanya Pérez-Brennan
The Boston Globe

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.— Anne Camaro sat in front of three large computer screens at the Framingham Police Department's dispatch station. One screen automatically posted calls as they came in. Another was covered with maps of the town. The third listed on-duty officers. A microphone stood by her side, ready to be utilized in an emergency.

"It's the most stressful job in the department," said Lieutenant Paul Shastany, spokesman for the Framingham police. "This is key."

Camaro, 23, is the town's newest police dispatcher, and the first Brazilian to be hired as part of a recruiting effort to bring more Portuguese-speaking employees and officers into the department.

"It's historic," said Deputy Chief Craig Davis. "I don't think that five or 10 years ago we would be hiring someone who is Brazilian-born."

The growth of the Brazilian community prompted police to recruit employees and officers who speak Portuguese, Davis said. "It was such a nascent group in the community, and now it has swollen to a significant bloc."

Brazilians started arriving in Framingham in large numbers beginning in the early 1990s. Estimates of the numbers of Brazilians range from 14,000 to 20,000, but those figures do not take into account the numbers of undocumented immigrants, according to police.

Police started their outreach effort in March by printing and distributing fliers to churches and downtown businesses, urging qualified candidates to apply for positions, Shastany said.

This hiring effort also is an attempt to dispel what the police see as misconceptions about their role, Shastany said. "Part of the problem was that [the Brazilians] didn't trust officers because obviously a good part of the population is illegal."

Two high-profile cases perhaps could have been dealt with before tragedy struck had the Brazilian community reported what they knew to authorities, Shastany said.

In May of last year, a Brazilian woman and her 11-year-old son were killed in their Framingham apartment. The husband and father, Jeremy Bins, was charged with the murders. And in July of last year, a 24-year-old Brazilian woman died from complications related to a liposuction surgery she had undergone at an illegal domestic surgery clinic.

But some Brazilian activists say hiring a Portuguese-speaking officer or employee is not enough.

"We need people who have enough courage to penetrate the community," said Ilma Paixão, an activist with the Brazilian American Association, a local group that has helped police with outreach. "The right dialogue between police and the community can save lives."

Duarte Calvao, who has been with the department for 10 years, was born in Portugal. He said he has noticed an increased need to use his language skills over the years. Knowing Portuguese has helped him deal with such incidents as domestic disputes and child abduction cases.

"There are times if you speak a certain language, there's more of a bond," he said.

But police acknowledge that language is not the only factor.

"It's not just the language, it's the cultural nuances," Davis said. "We think it's important to get Brazilian-Americans, not just someone who speaks Portuguese."

The Police Department has five Portuguese-speaking officers on staff, Shastany said, but there are five more positions to be filled. Before doing any more hiring, police must wait for a list of eligible candidates who speak Portuguese from the state Human Resources Division. Candidates must go through a rigorous set of background checks, and physical and psychological testing. And once candidates graduate from the police academy and undergo the tests, they also must become citizens before becoming officers, police said.

Because of the bureaucratic nature of the process, it might take a year before the department can hire anyone, said Police Chief Steven B. Carl.

"It's not going to be as quick as we like," he said.

Camaro, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, was hired in June. She is a permanent resident and knows she would need to attain citizenship to reach her goal of becoming a police officer.

As a dispatcher, knowing Portuguese has been helpful, she said. When people call the police station on behalf of someone else, it's usually because they don't speak English. Most of the time, they speak Portuguese, and she can quickly take over and get to the root of the problem.

"It's good, because sometimes people don't speak [English] or don't have access to an interpreter." 

Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe

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