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Big Crimes Rare

— Mike Dawson, Peninsula Daily News 1993, reprinted with permission

Crime: But small ones cost big money in interpreting costs.

Forks — From inside the criminal justice system, a person can develop a poor view of the Hispanic community.

"They work hard, and they are two fisted drinkers, and they beat on their wives," said Jan Boggs, administrator of Clallam County District Court in Forks, where 20 percent of the 2,500 defendants this year are Hispanic.

Some long-time residents say quality of life has gone down as the crime rate has gone up with the influx of Mexicans to the West End.

"You just can't believe what it's like," said Cecil McHenry, 67, of Alder Grove Park. "It's just a bad situation with them coming around here." He claims there are drug dealing, stabbings and rapes.

"If any women walks down the street in this park, eight or nine of them (Hispanics) will get out there and talk at them and make gestures," he said.

One Mexican man was killed by another in the park four years ago. A Mexican drug dealer was arrested there two years ago. But those instances are rare, authorities say. The new Hispanics have raised the crime rate, but not in the way many West End residents assume.

Most of the crimes are minor, police say. The most measurable effect Hispanics have had on the crime rate is the cost of hiring interpreters.

Because so many people do not speak English, the clerk's office is nearly paralyzed if bilingual clerk Sandra Velasquez is not working. Interpreters cost the department $20 an hour. Forks police chief Vern Johnson's translator budget is $6,000 this year, doubled from last year. It was $500 in 1990. He must train some officers in Spanish, and the 45-page jail rule book and other forms had to be printed in Spanish.

Many of the handful of rapes and felony assaults in 1992 were committed by immigrants, Johnson said. Three women reported rapes by Mexican men in the West End last year. In all three cases, the suspects were acquitted by Clallam County Superior Court juries. A Forks native was stabbed by an immigrant last year. But the case was ruled self-defense and no charge was filed.

However, Johnson said, the Hispanic community does not contain any higher percentage of criminals than any other group.

"I don't see them committing any more heinous crimes than anybody else," he said. "They are a vital part of our community now and contributing. Certainly (long-time residents) don't have anything to fear from the Hispanic culture."

But there is a wave of minor crime. It is the type that keeps officers busy, taking up time and money, Johnson said. It includes domestic violence, disturbances and violations. With traffic, many of the violations stem from ignorance or neglect of the law, Johnson said.

"The same car will have the same headlight out after a ticket month after month after month," he said.

Many newly arrived Mexicans, often illiterate young men from remote rural areas, are unfamiliar with vehicle regulations. Lack of insurance is a big one, Johnson said. No liscense and defective equipment are also common.

Traffic and minor violations become a rut for some young men, said Manuela Valasquez, Sandra's mother, who moved from Mexico to Forks 14 years ago.

"They work, they drink, they pay tickets," she said, and it casts a shadow on the rest of the Hispanic community. "All of this does not help us, the families."

Another crime that has increased is domestic violence, authorities say. It is not new to the West End, where Forks Abuse Program has become a busy place without the addition of Hispanic culture.

However, police say, the Hispanic version of wife-beating differs. Where the American batterer denies it or minimizes the assault, the Hispanic offender says, "So what?"

"A lot of times they are surprised to find themselves arrested for beating their wives," Clallam County sheriff's detective Randy Pieper said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Lenehan added: "I can't think of one of those that the guy didn't admit it. And the guy always thinks he's got a reason."

Hispanic victims often take it for granted as well, they said. The victims rarely phone police. Calls usually come from a concerned neighbor.

District Court Judge Susan Owens said she sends all domestic violence convicts to anger-management sessions. However, she said, she is unsure how effective it is for those who do not speak English.

Another Hispanic spin on an existing crime is drugs. Police are stingy with information about drug dealing. However, they say, many of the drugs on the Peninsula come via Mexicans.

"It's a few guys doing most of it," Pieper said.

Manuela Velasquez wants Hispanics and other West End residents to fight drugs together.

"Why do they come to this little town that is so beautiful and so peaceful to mess it up? Because there are users," she said.

Overall, Lenehan, Pieper and Johnson said, the Hispanic members of the community are no better or worse than anyone else.

"Five percent of all people are crooks," Lenehan said.

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