International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Refugees Come Together, Talk Safety with Tukwila PD

This March, the IRC in Seattle partnered with the Tukwila Police Department to discuss public safety with refugees from Bhutan and Burma. Police Commanders, Don Lincoln and Eric Drever, presented to two groups of refugees – over sixty in all – at a local apartment complex with the help of Burmese and Nepali interpreters.

Building trust and rapport between local law enforcement and the communities they serve was an important goal of the workshop. “First of all I want to say welcome to Tukwila. We are happy to have you here and please don’t ever hesitate to call us,” began Commander Lincoln.  Because many refugees come from areas where local authorities are corrupt or violent, some are fearful of the police after arriving in the U.S. Instead of viewing police as a resource, they are sometimes seen as a threat. This public safety workshop gave newly arrived refugees an opportunity to personally meet police officers, ask questions, voice concerns, and potentially gain a new perspective of local law enforcement.

The officers went on to offer specific tips for decreasing the risk of robbery and attack: “We want to help you reduce your vulnerability, to avoid becoming an attractive victim. You are at most danger by yourself and in the dark.  Travel in groups if you can and stay in well lit areas.”  The officers provided other useful suggestions like keeping all money, cards and important information in a wallet in your front pocket, making multiple copies of significant documents, and keeping jewelry and other valuable objects hidden from view.


Commander Lincoln addresses a group of Bhutanese refugees. Photo: IRC


Participants noted some of the differences between life in the U.S. and their lives back home.  For instance, among Bhutanese refugees coming from Nepal, locking doors is not a custom. “Unfortunately here in the U.S. you have to keep your doors closed and locked.  Look through the peephole and call the police if someone you don’t know is knocking on the door late at night,” Commander Lincoln told the group. This is but one example of the many new customs and norms refugees must become familiar with upon arrival.

In addition to providing practical advice for staying safe, the officers also emphasized the importance of reporting crimes and proactively contacting police if an area feels dangerous. They told participants to call 911 immediately if victimized, and to do so at the scene of the crime if possible to avoid jurisdictional confusion. Several attendees raised their hands to express worry over certain areas in their community. Many were new areas of concern to the officers, demonstrating how feedback from refugee communities can help improve security in Tukwila.  

The officers also talked specifically about recent incidents of telephone scams targeting Bhutanese and Iraqi refugees across the country. Refugees in Washington and several other states have received phone calls from people posing as representatives of the federal government, refugee resettlement agencies, as well as credit card companies. Unfortunately many people, including local families, have fallen victim to these scams and lost thousands of dollars.  The officers advised the group to never share personal information over the phone and that money will never be legitimately offered in this way.  Commander Drever encouraged participants to spread the word throughout the community: “Tell everyone and all of your friends about this, that will be the best way to stop it from happening.” The IRC and other organizations are helping educate local refugee communities about keeping personal information safe and how to report scams to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission, as well as local authorities. For further updates about these scams and details on filing complaints, please visit the Office of Refugee Resettlement website.

The IRC would like to thank Commanders Lincoln and Drever and the rest of the Tukwila PD for partnering with us on this highly successful workshop. It was a unique opportunity for refugee community members to interact with police officers, helping to create a new level of understanding and trust on each end. The IRC is excited to offer similar safety workshops with the help of local law enforcement in the future.

 

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