Scholars Work to Reduce Crimes Against Hispanics in North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
Crimes against Hispanics in North Carolina jumped as much as 500 percent between 1993 and 1998, according to some estimates.
Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University have teamed up to examine why Hispanics, whose percentage of the state population grew from 1.2 percent in 1990 to 4.7 percent in 2000, have become favorite targets of thieves. More importantly, the investigators have produced educational materials including Spanish-language brochures, public service announcements, a photographic storybook, or “photonovela,” and videos to try to reduce such crimes.
Researchers conducted 42 hourlong, in-depth interviews with law enforcement officers and social service personnel in six communities. They also formed and held discussions with two Spanish-language focus groups — one for men and one for women — in each of the six communities to gauge 100 Latino residents’ experiences with crime and law enforcement.
“Hispanics are becoming an increasingly important part of North Carolina’s
population, and they are not getting the services they should be getting,” says Dr. William M. Rohe, director of the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies. “They are being victimized because of their ethnicity and language barriers, and that shouldn’t happen.”
Dr. Thomas A. Arcury, formerly of UNC and now associate professor of community and family medicine at Wake Forest University, directed the project, and Rebecca Elmore, research associate at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies, was project coordinator. Rohe served as principal investigator. Help also came from an advisory committee composed of Hispanics from each of the six communities studied and representatives from law enforcement and the courts.
“Our chief goal was to develop materials that community organizations and law enforcement agencies could use to educate people about ways to reduce crime victimization,” Arcury says.
“An important topic addressed in these materials that was not expected to be
a pervasive concern was Latinos’ fear of police brutality based on experiences in their home countries,” Rohe says.
The team found that no good statistical information on crimes against Latinos was available for North Carolina. Also, most existing crime prevention materials were inappropriate because of language and educational barriers.
Hispanics reported robbery to be the most common and most feared crime they
faced. Seven of the 100 focus group participants were robbery victims themselves, and 60 said they knew of at least one Latino robbed or assaulted while living in North Carolina, Elmore says.
Among the findings were that Latinos:
• Often carried around too much cash because they did not trust or know how to use banks and were especially vulnerable on weekends;
• Felt unsafe in their neighborhoods and homes, particularly in urban areas;
• Were victims of fraud by being overcharged for services and housing, not paid for work completed, sold faulty automobiles and other equipment and cheated over various immigration concerns; and
• Often did not report crimes because of their inability to speak English and fears of police and immigration officials.
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