Policing Immigrant Integration

Immigrants to MaineThe immigrant surge that hit Lewiston, Maine some 14 years ago changed the face of the city from a predominantly white community to one with a non-white population of around 15 percent—one of the highest non-white rates in the state. Now, the Lewiston Police Department is actively looking to diversify its ranks to reflect more accurately reflect the community it serves.

Around a decade-and-a-half ago, a wave of mostly Somali immigrants began settling in Lewiston. In the years since then, these immigrants became established elements within the community. And because the second generation of these immigrants is now coming of age, the portion of the population with strong immigrant ties grows accordingly.

For Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere, a concerted recruiting effort toward a diversified workforce only makes sense. “We want our department to try to be reflective of the broader community it serves,” Bussiere told local newspaper The Press Herald. “And that’s a difficult battle sometimes, but it’s one that deserves our attention.”

By the newspaper account, Bussiere and the Lewiston Police Department already have a solid community outreach program in place to keep the difficulties to a minimum. For instance, cops routinely work to engage the immigrant community by educating new residents about areas with potential for cultural misinterpretation. Because of the United States and Somalia and other African nations interpret “public safety” vastly differently, Lewiston police put a premium on this outreach effort.

A dominant part of those conversations about public safety now also include the topic of law enforcement recruitment. While Bussiere hopes it will be sooner than later, Bussiere says it’s only a matter of time before Somali—or other African heritage—is included in the makeup of Lewiston’s finest.

Erin Reed is director of the community organization Trinity Jubilee Center. The center serves low-income residents in the area, including immigrants. “It can take people awhile to begin trusting the police,” said Reed. “Their only experiences have been with armed militias and violent security forces and they are afraid. But they start to see that when there is an issue, the police listen to people and make fair decisions. They see that when a crime is committed, the police spend a lot of time figuring out who did it, finding them and bringing them to justice.”

Bussiere said it’s only a matter of time before his department employs an officer of Somali heritage – or any other African heritage, for that matter – but he’d like that time to be soon. Over the next three years, around 25 percent of the current 82 Lewiston officers will be due to retire.