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Portland Police Reach Out To Newcomers From Somalia, Sudan‎‎

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This Week's News coverage for Somaliland and Somalia


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PORTLAND, Maine,   July 4, 2006 -- Immigrants whose homelands are wracked by violence and lawlessness are learning that police in their adopted countries are supposed to be friends, not enemies.

Leaders of the city's refugee communities recently completed a 10-week civilian police academy led by the Portland Police Department to help new residents understand the benefits and obligations of a law-and-order society.

Sgt. James Sweatt led 11 Sudanese and Somali men through the civilian police academy course that finished last week.

"They're coming from lawless regions sometimes, where there (are) no jaywalking issues, where rape and murder are occurring and there (are) no investigations and they have no civil rights," Sweatt said.

Coming from such a background, traffic laws and vehicle safety are sometimes ignored. So there's a learning curve, he said.

"We explain that with freedom comes some restriction and control for safety," Sweatt said. "There's a ton of stuff their cultures might not recognize as normal behavior. We try to bridge that gap."

Mohamud Barre, executive director of the Somali Cultural and Development Association of Maine and a graduate of the program, said the sessions were very informative.

"People still think about police in Africa," Barre said. "I understand police are your friend, not like police back home. That's why it's good to learn about their policy here."

The exchange went both ways, with officers learning about the immigrants' cultural backgrounds and how that influences behavior.

"It's good to have a good relationship," Barre said. "If people have information, instead of being afraid, they are up-front and feel safe. If you have something going in the community, it would be good to work side-by-side as a team."

The course covers everything from why officers wear body armor to why police have to respond when someone calls for an ambulance after a fight. They learn why in this country, shoving a spouse is domestic assault and can lead to arrest.

Sweatt said some of the participants were surprised to learn that officers did not collect fees from the traffic tickets they write and that the police are not part of the military.

The participants in the course, the fourth academy put on by the department, have been in this country for between four and seven years and are in a position to report what they learn to others in their community.

The sessions will help to erase misperceptions. For example, Barre said many female drivers are fearful of getting pulled over, so much so that when they see a cruiser, they sometimes turn and go in the other direction.

Barre thinks it would help to educate a group of women about why they might get pulled over and what information they would be asked to produce.

"If they understand it's not an enemy, it's a friend, they will feel less nervous," Barre said.

Source: Portland Press Herald/Associated Press

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