Hispanic view of government changing

Hermiston Police Department outreach officer Erica Franz helps 8-year-old Preston Strong fill a child identificatin card at a safety program last year. Franz is one of several full-time Hispanic officers on the Hermiston Police Department.

Part 3 of a series

Erica Franz was 18 when she took her first government job as a municipal court clerk. Following that, Franz (formerly Sandoval) held a series of government jobs as a translator and clerk before deciding to become a police officer.

“There weren’t many Latinos on the force when I signed on,” Franz recalled.

Since then, according to Franz, Hermiston’s police department has become more diverse. Franz is one of two full-time female officers and one of three full-time Hispanic officers. According to Franz, that shift has been spurred by Hermiston Police Chief Dan Coulombe.

“He realized his staff needed to reflect the community,” Franz said.

Currently, half of the reserve officers are Hispanic, and about 20 percent of the full-time police officers are Hispanic.

According to Coulombe, the increased diversity in the police force has been the result of a multi-pronged approach that includes training for cultural sensitivity, community outreach efforts and a hiring process that includes bilingual fluency as a desired ability.

While the percentage of full-time Hispanic officers is below the 34 percent Hispanic population in Hermiston, the representation of Hispanics on the police force is considerably ahead of other government agencies in Hermiston, including City Hall, where no Hispanics currently serve on the council.

According to Franz, the lack of Hispanic representation has several influencing factors. First, there is a language barrier for first-generation immigrants, which can potentially create a sense that they aren’t part of the community as a whole. Second, according to Franz, many Hispanics are used to widespread governmental corruption in countries like Mexico.

“They don’t believe they could have a voice,” Franz said.

City Manager Ed Brookshier said he has seen first-hand that perception when he has talked with schoolchildren who have moved to Hermiston from Mexico. According to Brookshier, the students see him as a powerful ruler of a city, and not a public servant.

Along with the perception that local government is an exclusive club of the wealthy, Franz said there is often a fear of police.

“The narcotraficantes are taking control,” Franz said. “(Hispanics are) not used to seeking the police for help. There’s just this wall that goes up.”

For Franz, one of the most rewarding parts of her job as a police officer has been watching as those barriers have begun to fall. In a recent case, Franz said a Hispanic woman contacted the Hermiston police regarding her sister, who lived in California and was in an abusive relationship.

According to Franz, the HPD was able to coordinate with local law enforcement in California and help the woman escape a bad situation with some of her belongings and her child.

“It was really nice to meet her,” Franz said. “Just to meet her was amazing. These are folks that aren’t used to seeking help.”

Now, according to Franz, not only are the two sisters evidence that Hispanics are developing more trust in government, they are volunteering their time and energy for community service activities.

“They’re giving back to the community with their time and their work,” Franz said.

For Franz, that has given her a lot of satisfaction, both in being a police officer and a Latina. She said can see a day when more and more Hispanics begin taking part in local government and volunteer activities.

“I think it’s definitely going that way,” Franz said. “I’m seeing more participation in every event.”

According to Brookshier, that is good news for a town that is more than one-third Hispanic.

“If you look at the business community, they have excelled,” Brookshier said. “They really need to have a presence in governmental affairs as well.”

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