Deputy helps officers bridge language barrier
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 7, 2007 1:49 PM
J.R. Bravo grew up in the south Bronx of New York City, third generation in a Puerto Rican family that moved to this country. So speaking Spanish was second nature to him.
Now, he is using those skills and heritage as part of a new job with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.
In his role as a deputy sheriff in Wayne County since January 2006, Bravo has been named a member of the recently formed gang task force.
He joined the Sheriff's Office two years ago, initially as a detention officer, after a stint in the Air Force as an MP, or military police.
Sheriff Carey Winders said Bravo's background is an asset.
Recalling an incident of a shooting involving a Hispanic that happened shortly after Bravo came on board, Winders said the deputy was instrumental in obtaining information.
"We have few Spanish-speaking officers on the force, so being able to speak fluent Spanish has definitely been a benefit to the Sheriff's Office," he said.
Those who are bi-lingual are in high demand, the sheriff said, and oftentimes are snatched up by other agencies. County Manager Lee Smith has approved an incentive offering a percentage salary increase to learn Spanish, he added.
Bravo admitted he has received offers from other agencies, but said he has no interest in leaving Wayne County.
"I like the environment here. ... I like the people I work with," he said.
Bridging the communication gap also restores some faith and trust between cultures, Winders said.
"Unlike our country, law enforcement may be perceived in some areas as untrustworthy. Sometimes they're afraid to reveal anything to law enforcement," he said. Especially involving a murder or any other horrendous crime involving Hispanics, as well as being victimizd, Winders said. He credits Bravo with being instrumental in conveying to families that law enforcement is there to assist them.
The deputy said it is exciting to be a part of that.
"There's not the trust factor there. They come from places where law enforcement is not the most respected profession," he said. "I'm obviously here to help."
The Sheriff's Office has recently revamped its drug task force and gang task force, Winders said, naming Bravo to serve on the gang task force. Its mission is to improve awareness and intervention in the community.
"We're here to let people know that they don't have to be victims, they don't have to be threatened," Bravo said. "We're here to educate and assist them."
Presentations are regularly given to civic groups and churches about the gang situation in Wayne County. A program is also being developed at the middle and high school levels, Winders said, to deter children from joining a gang.
"We want to educate people and make them aware of the dangers, how they can react," Bravo said. "It's not illegal to be in a gang but there are illegal activities in the gang."
While the sheriff said his office has been working diligently on the gang problem for three years, there is still much to be done.
Another avenue being explored is through the recently-formed Latino Council, of which Gaspar Gonzalez is chairman. Bravo's leadership potential caused Gonzalez to nominate Bravo for the role of vice-chairman.
"I'm enjoying working with the Latino Council," Bravo said. "It's very exciting. We're encouraging more leaders to step up, and we're looking forward to them assisting me in my job."
Today, the council will host a regional symposium for area community leaders to discuss Latino issues in the state.
Bravo said it is just one more way to elevate his mission as a deputy sheriff.
"I want to build relationships with these people, to build their trust and to rid the community of the gang problems as much as possible," he said.
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