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New lines of communication opened
Authorities reach out to Forsyth Hispanic population
Officers with the FCSO SOAR team talk to Hispanic residents during an educational program recently. - photo by Submitted
Local authorities say a crime fighting initiative in Forsyth’s Hispanic communities isn’t getting lost in translation.

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s crime prevention unit and Sheriff’s Office Aggressive Response team, or SOAR, are working together to open lines of communication with residents who speak Spanish and little or no English.

Lt. Col. Gene Moss said the initiative is focused on neighborhoods along Hwy. 9 in south Forsyth.

“We’ve gotten a lot of information back that’s helped us with criminal activity in the Hispanic community,” Moss said.

The initiative started in January, and the sheriff’s office has since held several meetings in Forsyth’s predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods.

Deputy Jimmy Delvalle, who is fluent in Spanish, said residents in the neighborhoods were apprehensive at first because the green uniforms worn by members of SOAR reminded them of those worn by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

“I figured out the best way to make contact with the most people would be to contact church leaders, community leaders and store owners,” Delvalle said.

Through both churches that offer services in Spanish and Hispanic businesses, Delvalle said he was able to establish trust and set up community meetings.

Delvalle additionally translated a sheriff’s office presentation that provides information about the agency and shows residents how to get involved in Neighborhood Watch.

He said he has worked with Hispanic parents on identifying signs of gang activity with their children. He also shows them how to prevent such activity.

The sheriff’s office has started a Spanish-speaking Crime Stoppers tip line as well.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Josh Cox said because of their efforts, when authorities go into Forsyth’s Hispanic neighborhoods, residents who before may have gone in their homes and shut the doors are now comfortable.

“They call us the guys in green,” he said. “They know to come talk to us.”

Cox said the initiative involves aggressive patrols and building relationships within the communities.

Moss said the initiative could have helped authorities in November when language barriers slowed a murder investigation.
Guillermo Lira, 49, had been the key witness in a prostitution investigation. He was later found beaten to death in a house on Hwy. 9 near the Midway community.

“It kind of magnified that we didn’t have any informants or concerned citizens that could really help us during a Hispanic-on-Hispanic crime,” Moss said. “It also showed there was some concerning criminal activity going on in the Hispanic community where they were the victims of crime, and we needed to clean it up.”

Moss said the initiative has since made an impact on crime in those communities.

Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Sabella said the agency is now working on translating the Stranger Danger program, which is used to teach children how to avoid harmful situations.

Sabella said while Hispanic children who attend school in Forsyth County likely speak English, the program is being translated so that their parents can understand and reinforce its lessons.

Sabella said he could barely speak Spanish when the initiative started but has completed a 40-hour course designed for law enforcement officers.

He got to use his new knowledge at a recent meeting in the Pine Ridge mobile home park.

“To see their reaction to me being able to speak to them in Spanish was amazing,” he said.

E-mail Julie Arrington at