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Pittsburgh Public Safety starts Multicultural Liaison Unit to help immigrants

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, 4:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh Assistant Public Safety Drector Shatara Murphy (center) flanked by Mayor Bill Peduto and members of the city’s immigrant community outlines programming Wednesday to help immigrants learn about public safety services.
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Assistant Public Safety Drector Shatara Murphy (center) flanked by Mayor Bill Peduto and members of the city’s immigrant community outlines programming Wednesday to help immigrants learn about public safety services.

Pittsburgh Assistant Public Safety Director Shatara Murphy said a little boy approached her recently at a community mixer featuring immigrants, police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

He wanted to know how many people could fit in a fire truck parked nearby.

“I thought he wanted to know how many firefighters could fit in the fire truck, but he actually wanted to know how many people could fit in there, because he thought the fire truck could be used as a vehicle to take him and his family away,” Murphy said Wednesday.

The question, she said, highlights a problem among Pittsburgh's growing immigrant community. Immigrants fear uniformed officers, particularly police, after experiencing oppression from authorities in their home countries.

Pittsburgh, through a $50,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments, plans to address it through the creation of a Multicultural Liaison Unit and programs designed to help immigrants understand city public safety services.

Programming will include “watch and learn” videos with subtitles and pamphlets outlining such things as police protocol and how people who can't speak English should report a crime or request an ambulance.

Plans include such things as community meetings in which immigrants can meet public safety personnel, cultural training for first responders, and a Refugee Public Safety Academy, similar to Pittsburgh's Public Safety Academy.

“The reality is that many come with the reality that in their home countries there is clear distrust with their version of public safety,” said Rosamaria Cristello, a founder of the Latino Community Center in Hazelwood. “That distrust ... is then brought here.”

The Multicultural Liaison Unit stems from a series of bills sponsored earlier this year by City Councilman Dan Gilman and approved by council designed to help immigrants navigate city services.

“We've heard examples in this country where people have not called 911 when someone's having a heart attack ... where you don't call 911 when you're a victim of domestic abuse because you fear that the police may come and ask for your immigration status and papers,” Gilman said. “That is something that we can proactively stop from ever happening here.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or @bobbauder.

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