October 9, 1998

Utah Latino Leaders Boycott Crime Summit

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Mayor Deedee Corradini and Police Chief Ruben Ortega invited 15 Latino leaders to a ``Hispanic Crime Summit.''

That didn't sit so well with the community leaders, so the officials renamed it a ``Community Discussion on Crime.''

Even so, not many plan to come. Instead, Latinos, other ethnic minorities and community activists will gather Saturday at the City-County Building to offer their own ideas for reducing crime.

``We would like to get the whole community involved to address crime in Salt Lake City, not just look at one group,'' said Chris Segura, executive director of Utah Coalition of La Raza. ``No single group is committing all the crime, so why are we focusing on one ethnic group?''

In September, Latinos opposed a plan to give city police the power to enforce some federal immigration laws. Many Latinos argued that the project would target them because of their color, national origin or language.

In a 4-3 vote, the City Council refused to ``cross-deputize'' Salt Lake City police officers.

Law-enforcement officials contend there is a problem with illegal immigrants who deal drugs, and Corradini says it is up to the Latinos to come up with an alternative.

``This is a meeting the chief and I are hosting to talk with the leaders of the Hispanic community, to say all of that's behind us,'' Corradini said. ``Where do we go from here? It is the Hispanic community that was most concerned about the deputization plan. We are asking, `What can we do to deal with the problem in a way that you are comfortable with?' ''

Many Latinos say they are tired of being blamed for what ails the city.

Michael Martinez, an attorney, said that Latinos account for a small percentage of felonies. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's office tracks several categories of crime - such as assault, rape and child molesting. Martinez claims that Latinos are over-represented in only in one area - drug offenses.

So why is so much attention focused on Latinos and crime? Martinez asked. ``The real issue,'' Martinez said, ``is they don't want to integrate (ethnic minorities into) the current anti-crime efforts, like mobile watch, community councils and community policing.''

Corradini acknowledges there are few minorities in community councils and a feeling that neighborhood watch patrols target Latino neighbors. But the mayor says she is going to try to solve the problems her way - meeting quietly with minority leaders in closed-door sessions.

``We are trying to get everyone to work together,'' Corradini said. ``I meet with small groups of minorities all the time. To be frank, this (crime meeting) is being played up as something larger than it really is.''

The mayor's discussion is planned for Tuesday at the Little America Hotel.

For one of the organizers of the Saturday event, Corradini's approach is worrisome.

``A lot of people said, `I'm not going to a closed-door meeting,' and they were right,'' said Joan Smith, director the Utah branch of the National Conference for Community and Justice. ``The discussion needs to be open and include everybody.''

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