Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Monday unveiled a new program to connect officers to “culturally specific” communities.
Salazar has appointed 12 liaisons to each serve communities such as the Muslim, black, and deaf communities, among others. Community liaisons will help people navigate the legal system and answer questions about how law enforcement operates. Sometimes, Salazar added, they will simply act as translators.
“It is quite common, in the multicultural city and county we live in, that you find folks that don’t speak the language,” he said. “That might be enough to keep them from reporting a crime.”
Salazar said he will look to each liaison to help bridge gaps created by cultural differences. For instance, if Sgt. Abraham Abraham, who will serve as the liaison for the Indian population of Bexar County, notices a pattern of crimes in the Indian community, he will understand better how to address it, Salazar explained.
Abraham, who has been with the sheriff’s department for six years, speaks six languages — Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, English, and some Spanish.
“To me, it was nothing new,” he said. “When I was working in detention, I would be called for translation.”
Abraham estimated that of the 30,000 Indians living in San Antonio, roughly half are immigrants and the other half are first-generation Americans. He pointed to cultural differences that could cause issues with law enforcement interactions. In India, he said, you don’t stay in the car when a police officer pulls you over.
“Here, when the police stops you, you better stay inside,” he said.
Salazar said liaisons would also help create more diverse workforce in his department by recruiting in their communities. Sgt. Stephanie Flores, the LGBTQIA liaison, said they have already organized recruiting events for the LGBTQIA community.
Flores said the more she discussed the liaison program with Salazar, the more communities they discovered – and the more uncertain they became on how to divide responsibilities.
“We can just keep going on and on,” she said. “It gets a little confusing because if we do that, is the African American liaison covering Nigerians? Is the Asian-Pacific Islander liaison covering Korean, Japanese communities? We’re excited to get into it so we can feel it out.”
Salazar said all liaisons are deputies already working within the agency, and will continue with their roles with the sheriff’s department.
“This team will be representing various segments of the population that can become marginalized for whatever reason,” Salazar said. “We’re hoping this group will help us bring the community in.”