INDIANAPOLIS — In an effort to seek solutions and bridge gaps between the Latino community and law enforcement, police, faith leaders and residents met Tuesday night to have an open discussion.

The conversation, held at the International Marketplace Coalition on Indy’s northwest side, was similar to the Pizza with the Police and Pastors events, which opens the door for people to share their opinions, ask questions and voice concerns about things they’d like to see change.

“Just attending these last sessions, we’ve seen that the community has a voice and wants to use their voice in making sure that we all can collaborate together with whatever the solution is to try and reduce the violence here in this city,” said Danyette Smith, Director of Domestic Violence Prevention for the City of Indianapolis, with the Indy Public Safety Foundation.

During these events, organizers ask at least one member of IMPD to be seated at a table, along with pastors and community members. By doing so, it ensures an honest, open dialogue that can help push forward solutions in Indy’s neighborhoods.

“You hear different perspectives; you hear different ways for people to come together in this fight,” said Smith.

In this instance, officials with IMPD said it was members of the community who reached out to them to help coordinate the event.

“Any time someone reaches out to us and wants to have a positive conversation, I am all for that, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Commander Ida Williams with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Community Outreach and Engagement Bureau.

“People are ready. They want to feel safe and secure in their own neighborhoods and it’s time. We came off of 2020 with COVID and some of the other civil unrest and as a country, we’re trying to heal, and this is an awesome opportunity to talk about how we can come together,” said Williams.

During the Chats and Tacos event, which lasted about an hour and a half, community members weighed in on what they’d like to see change in order to bridge the gaps between the Latino community and law enforcement.

“It’s not us against them. We have to come together and that’s one of the awesome things about these conversations is we’re finding that we’re all aiming for the same goal,” said Williams.

Several speakers took the stand before the event moved to more of a roundtable discussion-type format, allowing people to weigh in, write down their concerns and goals, and share those with other attendees. One of those individuals, was IMPD Officer Randy Diaz.

Diaz, the coordinator for the Immigrant Outreach Unit with IMPD’s Community Outreach and Engagement Bureau, said it was his own personal experiences that helped drive his desire to want to make positive change in Indianapolis when he put on the badge.

One of those experiences stemmed from a trip to the Dominican Republic right before he entered the military. Diaz said he was pulled over and the officer threatened to take him to jail because he was wearing camouflaged pants and therefore, impersonating an officer.

“I said, ‘I’m an American, I don’t know your laws. You look like my uncle to be honest with you.’ And he goes, ‘Okay. American, right? Just like my uncle — American.’ So he lets me go and I’m yelling at my cousin, like, ‘How did you let me go out in these pants? It was your fault I was handcuffed,'” Diaz explained.

“Now I’m the officer, now I’m the one interacting with the community. I see the fear that I had when I was the one being pulled over, I see it in the community when I say trust us, work with us, how can we build better relationships? In a lot of different immigrant cultures, we all treat each other like family, we’re all cousins and aunts and uncles, so everyone here is my cousin,” said Diaz.

“Not the cousin who let me wear those pants, but we’re all cousins and like cousins we’re going to think like a family of a better way to build a relationship with the community.”

Members of different organizations, including the Indy Champions for Domestic Violence, a program through the Indy Public Safety Foundation, were in attendance. The organization works to serve as a liaison between victims and survivors of domestic violence and the resources that are in the community.

Others in attendance included staff with the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, representatives of community organizations, IMPD Victim Assistance Unit, local clergy and members of the Latino community.

Part of the event included the discussion portion at tables before people took to the podium to share what their groups felt would be the best ways to bridge the gaps between law enforcement and the Latino community.

As each table sent a representative to share what they felt was important, many echoed several common concerns: lack of trust in law enforcement and lack in Latino representation.

One of the changes attendees said they’d like to see more of is cultural awareness from IMPD and the community as a whole.

“Learn about the culture and why we do things the way we do. Also, notice that we are all not all from Mexico. There are people from different places. At our table, we have people from Columbia, Venezuela, from Spain, the Dominican Republic. So we have differences in our cultures even though we have a lot in common,” said Maria Wildridge, Latino Affairs director for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.

Wildridge and other tables’ representatives, including Anna Hail, Planning Council coordinator for the Marion County Health Department, said they’d like to see more resources brought into the community, rather than expecting people to only attend a meeting to have their voices heard.

“I think it will be great when you meet us where we are. As you can tell, there’s not a lot of people here from the community,” said Wildridge.

“This is a great event, but this is a great event for the people that are officials, that work with organizations or for those of you who are doing this work because you want to find the solutions but the people that we need to get to is not here. They are not here. So what do you do? You go to them,” said Hail. “As I was sitting here, I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t we take these tacos to the apartments down the road?'”

Hail said one of the things in the past that she enjoyed seeing was a Citizen’s Academy in Spanish.

She also said their group recommended that officers go to churches and to meet the women who deliver food to homebound individuals to learn about the needs in the community, including from those who may be hesitant to right now communicate their needs or concerns directly to police.

“We need to learn to ease that fear factor. I know IMPD has started recruiting more diverse officers. So, basically if we can bridge that gap with the language, the fear factors, the cultural differences and come together as a general community, everybody in the community will be better off,” said Racheal Crouch, a counselor with IMPD’s Victim Assistance Unit.

Crouch said their group discussed building trust between IMPD and the Latino community and felt a way to make strides toward improving it would be to add more bilingual officers and first responders, as well as resources, with not only IMPD, but also other agencies, including dispatch.

“One really amazing thing that could be created, hint hint, is a communication app that people could carry on their phone, not just for speaking a variety of dialects in Spanish, but also Haitian Creole, Chin; these are not found in Google translate, I’ve tried,” said Crouch.

“We as victim assistance speak to a variety of people in a variety of different languages. It’s really hard to find these resources for different languages, different cultures, so maybe gather together and help create this. It’s also another bridge builder,” Crouch added.

Crouch said they also encourage the community and police to meet regularly.

“Invite IMPD to the community events, therefore they’re on the home team and you’re just introducing them to your area,” said Crouch.

Organizers said they are working to make Indianapolis safer by not only acting on suggestions and concerns discussed, but also with the information gathered through the community events this year, including Tuesday’s discussion.

The final community event, Pizza with the Police and Pastors will be held on November 10th, IMPD said.