Wauconda police launch Spanish-language hotline
The Wauconda Police Department has launched a Spanish-language hotline so Hispanic people can more easily report crimes or request information.
Calls to the nonemergency line -- (224) 993-0482 -- will be answered weekdays between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. by police department employees who speak Spanish. The hotline also will accept texts.
Messages left on a weekend or after hours will be returned.
People who need police for emergencies still should call 911, regardless of the language they speak.
A hotline email account was created, too: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The hotline debuted this week. It comes as anxiety about anti-Hispanic discrimination, immigration restrictions and deportations are growing in the Chicago area and across the nation.
The line's creation was partially prompted by those concerns, Police Chief David Wermes said.
"I do not want any community member to be afraid to approach our police officers (or) employees," Wermes said. "We want members of our Spanish-speaking community to have trust in our police department and the services we provide."
Other police departments have similar services. For example, the Mundelein Police Department subscribes to a live, 24-hour phone line that can interpret any caller's language.
"If you run a 911 center it is imperative," Mundelein Public Safety Director Eric Guenther said.
Mundelein police have bilingual dispatchers and staffers who can handle Spanish-language calls, too. So does the Waukegan Police Department.
Wauconda's hotline uses an existing department phone and won't create any additional costs, Wermes said.
The department has seven Spanish-speaking employees, Wermes said, and five of them are sworn officers. The highest-ranking officer who speaks Spanish is Sgt. John Thibault.
Wauconda has a large Hispanic community. Wermes estimated more than 20 percent of the village's residents speak Spanish.
Since Wermes was hired as chief in December 2015, the department has hired five Spanish-speaking employees: three sworn officers, a community service officer and an executive assistant.
"In order to serve the entire community, (the department) had to make some adjustments in our staffing," he said.
It's important Hispanic residents trust the police department and use its services, Wermes said.
"We do not want our Spanish-speaking residents to be afraid to come into the police department to report that they have been a victim of a crime or be afraid to report criminal behavior," he added.
But the hotline isn't just for reporting crime. People can call it to ask questions, request reports or get other information from police.
Mayor Frank Bart said the hotline will ensure Wauconda remains a safe place to live.
"We want all residents to know that we are here to serve and protect them," he said.
Bart and Wermes are quite aware of growing concerns in the Hispanic community about President Donald Trump's threatened crackdowns on people living in the U.S. illegally, and they've tried to address those fears during community meetings.
Wermes insisted Wauconda police only will arrest immigrants for deportation if they're violent criminals or gang members. That's the same stance held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, he said.