Crimes can go unreported when victims question police

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Three Charlotte teens are accused of robbing a Hispanic woman at an East Charlotte apartment complex and shooting her.  36-year-old Maria Echeverria de Gomez was killed Tuesday morning on Barrington Drive.

Family members told WBTV that she was just headed to work.

The boldness of this crime is what's troubling to police, and people in Charlotte's Latino community say they feel targeted because thieves know many of them are afraid to call police-- worried about deportation.

"They say 'I going to report this and get deported to something that can be worse?  I will stay quiet.'"  said Yisel Pomier Maren of the Latin-American Coalition in Charlotte. "You are not going to do it because you are scared…you are leaving a country that has a lot of bad situations.  You are coming to the United States to have a better life for your children."

And that silence can kill.  Neighbors say that Echeverria de Gomez had been the victim of crime before, but had not reported it to police.

The Latin-American Coalition works with Latinos, often giving them advice on how to deal with crime and legal issues.

"We came to this country scared of authority, more when you are an undocumented person," Maren added.

"As far as legalities of legal paperwork or not legal paperwork, we don't get into that," said CMPD officer Marty Baucom.

Baucom and officer Steve Branan run a Latino Outreach program in CMPD's Independence Division.  They say it has been very successful in creating an understanding between Latinos and police.

They say they do have to overcome preconceived notions about police as they try to build bridges with the community.

"We're here to help you," Branan said. "We're here to help you find out what you need to do if you're a victim of a crime, by all means call and let us know that."

Both officers speak Spanish and have been to Costa Rica, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries to learn more about the culture.

The outreach program, sparked by a suggestion from CMPD Chief Kerr Putney, originally met with 12-15 community members, but now attracts nearly 100 each Thursday night, according to the officers.

"The biggest thing is we have to educate officers as much as we educate the Hispanic community, we have a tendency to pull away from something we aren't comfortable with," Baucom added.

And that's true on both sides of the issue, they say.  The Latin American Coalition is working with police to try and create better understanding.  They, and police, say it is possible that better trust in police could have prevented what happened on Barrington Drive on Tuesday morning.

"You have to teach and educate the community that way they can learn to overcome the fear to go to the police," Maren added. "Don't fear the police."

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