THOUGH MANY MEMBERS of Washington's diverse Hispanic community say they have difficulties getting along with police officers here, more than a few Spanish-speaking residents of Adams-Morgan will agree with the headline above, which says "Some Police Understand." They refer specifically to the compassionate and bilingual Metropolitan Police Department officers who work at a special police community center at 2455 18th Street NW. According to a report in last Thursday's District Weekly section of this newspaper, neighborhood leaders point to the center as a shining example of what police should be doing.
Much of the credit for this success goes to officers Rafael Alaniz and Wilson Barreto, the residents report. The officers' approach is nothing new to police-work; indeed, it reminds us of the old-fashioned neighborhood beat officers who made a point to know the people they served and protected, and who could be depended upon to enforce the laws with cmpassion. For example, when officer Alaniz came upon eight Puerto Ricans asleep in a van on 18th Street, he could speak to them in Spanish and find out that they were broke migrant farmworkers on their way to Florida. He could learn further that neither the three adults nor five children had had anything to eat in two days. Within three hours, the officer had collected money from residents, had bought lunch and groceries for the family and sent the van on its way.
But it's not all good Samaritan work, either. Often the officers's knowledge of the language and customs of the community enables them to serve the people in other important ways - to explain and enforce the laws in ways that can be understood, to work with youth and to mediate disputes arising from misunderstandings. This is an important service to all residents of the community and a strong argument for continuing the department's current drive to recruit more Hispanic and bilingual officers.