Updated 02/25/2013 07:22 AM
Wappingers Falls police try to regain trust of Hispanic community
Wappingers Falls police are doing everything they can to mend fences with their village's large Hispanic community. This comes after a former officer was caught scamming immigrants out of thousands of dollars. YNN's John Wagner reports.
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WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. -- Marco Jimenez says he's just one of hundreds of Latinos scammed, and scarred, by Miguel Rodriguez, a former Wappingers Falls police officer and liaison to the Hispanic community.
"Every time you see a police officer you don't trust them to protect you, to serve you," said Jimenez. "People see the police car behind them and they start shaking. They think that they're going to get pulled over and start asking for bribes. It's getting out of hand."
According to the indictment, for two years Rodriguez charged immigrants $300 to enter a state lottery he claimed would give them valid drivers licenses. And he charged up to a thousand dollars for paperwork they were told would keep them from being deported.
"It basically ruined the Hispanic community," described Rafael Torres, a Wappingers Falls police officer. "It lost the trust, that we tried to build."
Marco Jimenez spent $350 on two badges that were supposed to give him and his wife protection when approached by cops. Police are now approaching them again, this time to repair burned bridges.
"People don't want to trust them," said Jimenez who hopes those feelings will change. "People don't want to call the police for anything, people don't want to go near them."
"From other countries, cops are the bad guys," said Officer Torres, explaining another reason why it's going to be tough to earn back their respect. "We're not, we're here to help them."
The new liaison, Rafael Torres, is going to the same places his predecessor went to con. Rafael's even passing out his personal phone number to offer a round the clock help line.
"If something happens behind closed doors, they're not going to call the cops," said Torres. "They're just going to stay quiet; we're trying to change that."
Once a month Police and Community Together Meetings (PACT) are a good start to repairing the trust lost.
"It is very important that the people see the police as somebody who is a friend, and not against them," said community member Felix Vallejo.
"We shouldn't blame the whole department because of that one individual," said Jimenez.
A quarter of village residents are Hispanic.