Spanish Secret Witness line silent, may be discontinued | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Spanish Secret Witness line silent, may be discontinued

William Ferchland

The Spanish line of Secret Witness, a nonprofit organization that fields anonymous calls from people reporting crimes, has suffered from inactivity in the past years but officials are seeking to provide a boost with informational campaigns. Photo Illustration by Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune

During the past several years, the Spanish line for Secret Witness has rung maybe five times, with several of those being misdials.

What was once created to entice Spanish speakers to anonymously report crimes has turned into a silent line which officials believe represents a culture weary of authorities.

Shirley Taylor, chairwoman of Secret Witness, said the line could be terminated, leaving only the English line.

The nonprofit organization was formed in 1980 after teenager Richard Swanson was tied up and suffocated with duct tape during a robbery at the South Lake Tahoe gas station.

The Spanish-only line was established roughly five years ago as a way for authorities to reach into the Hispanic community. Afterward authorities and board members attempted to remind Spanish speakers of the service.

Notices were placed in English newspapers as well as a Spanish periodical in Reno, according to South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Terry Daniels.

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Two printings of Spanish brochures touting Secret Witness in the last four years produced little reaction.

“Since there wasn’t any results in that we really started to question the problem,” Taylor said.

Authorities believe Hispanics are either afraid of law enforcement in general or, if here illegally, fear they will be reported to immigration officials.

Daniels stated that isn’t the case.

“We’re not going to contact the (Immigration and Naturalization Service),” he said. “In fact, that’s the furthest thing in our mind.”

Improvements are under way. Pedro A. Lopez, a member of the Latino Affairs Commission, said the Hispanic community needs to be aware of the opportunity.

“They don’t have the right information,” Lopez said.

The commission will consider ways to open the Spanish line during a meeting Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Family Resource Center.

“I think it’s going to take some outreach to make the thing more well known,” said commission member Joe Pepi.

Secret Witness does not require a person’s first name or any other identifying details. If an award is deemed appropriate based on the information provided, then the person will be given an identification number.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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