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Storm Lake program provides national model

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STORM LAKE, Iowa -- Since one of four contacts with the public result in communications with non-English speakers, the Storm Lake Police Department has several interpreters on staff to make sure people are understood.

That's just one of the Storm Lake practices that have caught the eye of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City. Storm Lake police Lt. Chris Cole will be going to a Vera conference this week to teach other law enforcement agencies from across the nation that deal with large numbers of new immigrant citizens.

Storm Lake has a large population of immigrants from Latin America, Sudan, Laos and Vietnam. Police Chief Mark Prosser said having bilingual interpreters working in the office, diversity training and having police forms printed in a number of languages have been identified as best practices by Vera. Also of note is Storm Lake officer familiarity in using U-visas.

U-visas are used to extend an immigrant's visa if the person is needed at a trial, including if they were victim of a crime or witness to one. Police can endorse the extension of a U-visa if immigrants meet requirements, including assisting authorities in pertinent investigations.

"It is an under-utilized program of this training and the meeting is to create tool kits so law enforcement agencies can learn more about it and create consistent policies on its use," Prosser said.

In February 2009, Vera included Storm Lake among six departments that have developed best practices in dealing with diverse demographics, which Prosser said is a pleasing commemoration. He's glad the institute will use Cole in the sessions from Monday to Wednesday in Washington, D.C., where a lot of talk will be about U-visas.

"It will give us an opportunity to learn more about it, because we our (outside) inquiries about it have gone up and, second, we'll have one of our officers at the table as national policy and recommendations are being created. And then, in turn we have committed down the road to provide Lt. Cole to give training to regional departments and departments in other parts of the country. I would expect it will be way broader than Northwest Iowa," Prosser said.

The chief explained that the Storm Lake Police Department has had bilingual community service officers since the mid-1990s as the city was transformed, with non-natives increasingly moving to work in packing plants. Those uniformed officers aren't sworn officers and therefore don't carry weapons, but handle parking enforcement, direct traffic at accident scenes and other duties.

When the need arises, they use bilingual skills to help Storm Lake residents communicate.

Prosser said Cole is well-acquainted with u-Visas, so he'll be a boon for the Vera Institute.

Cole said he was gratified to take part in the train-the-trainer event.

"I want to see how other diverse police departments across the country deal with crime victims and share the experiences that we have here in Storm Lake," Cole said.


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