14 Jan 2014 Lindenwold cops: Report crime, forget immigration status

Law enforcement went to Lindenwold's Hispanic community Sunday with a message for immigrants in this country illegally:

We don't care. We want to prevent crime, and we need your help.

Speaking after a Spanish-language Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe, Police Chief Thomas J. Brennan told a full church, "Anyone's status with regard to immigration is not important. Whether you are here legally or illegally, you're a member of this community and therefore deserve a right to be safe."

While investigating the Nov. 30 killing of an undocumented resident - Ever Santos Mancinas, slain during a robbery at his home as he protected a 16-year-old nephew - police began to realize the extent of crimes against Lindenwold's growing undocumented immigrant community, Brennan said.

"We soon realized that the reason they were being victimized quite frequently is they were not reporting these crimes to police for fear of their immigration status," Brennan said. Their primary concern was that contact with police would lead to deportation or other consequences, he said.

Speaking through a translator, Brennan stressed that residents could safely share their identities and information with police.

"You can report crimes anonymously, or by letter," he told the group. "The important thing is we need your help. What we're hoping to accomplish today is to build some trust."

The congregation applauded.

Derek DeCosmo, an immigration lawyer who organized the event, reiterated: "Police are not interested in your immigration status when you are not the perpetrator of a crime."

Members of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office made the same point and explained services available to crime victims.

The Rev. Joe Capella, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe, said he believed the meeting would make a difference.

"Will they now come forward? That's a very good question. Yes. I think that will change."

Sol Rocha, 40, of Clementon, here legally from Mexico, said: "There is a lot of crime in Lindenwold. I think this will help."

Francisco Monterosa, 49, of Lindenwold, an immigrant from El Salvador and a U.S. citizen, told police he was burglarized three days ago, when he returned home from the grocery store with his wife and children to find the crime in progress.

The thief took all their jewelry and left through the window he had broken to enter. Monterosa said he called police, and when no one came after 15 minutes, he called again, waiting another 15 minutes before police arrived.

He shared his story with officers Sunday.

He said he felt police did not patrol his neighborhood well, and never on foot. The burglar fled into the woods behind his apartment complex, he said.

Monterosa said his concern had less to do with whether people are here legally. He worries about retaliation. The immigrant community is small, he said. If he identifies a criminal, who is going to stop the man from getting out of jail in six months and seeking retribution? he asked. "How are they going to keep us safe?"

DeCosmo said the key to safer communities was persuading undocumented immigrants to share information with police.

"We let them know that we're not interested in their status if they come forward to help us solve murders," he said. "Solving a murder is more important than knowing whether somebody swam across the Rio Grande."

[email protected]215-313-3518