Russians' Tale - Crime and Suspicion

by Suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & ou've probably heard the whispers about Russian immigrants involved in crime, many of them whirling around the supposed chop shops, where stolen cars are dissected for parts. Of course, part of the immigrant experience in America is contending with the suspicious glances of the native-born. We may be a nation of immigrants, but we have a long tradition of viewing the newest arrivals as a threat to labor as they take jobs for less pay and drive wages down, or as a drain on the public purse if unemployed, or as criminals taking a shortcut to the American dream. It's been no different for the Russians in Spokane.

Detective Scott Anderson of the Spokane Police Auto Theft Unit says, "There's not a whole lot of trust there," when it comes to the Slavic community and the police. "They are a close-knit community, and we are outsiders." But the lack of information is "not so much of a language barrier -- it's more of a culture thing." He continues, "I'm not sure how much they feel comfortable coming forward with information." Still, Slavic criminal involvement is "proportional to the rest of community. Whether they're Eastern European or born and raised here, we have a handful of criminals one way or the other."

He has heard the whispers that Russians are involved in chop shops -- but whispers, of course, are not evidence: "We hear the same kinds of rumors and suspicions that you do, but ... where's the proof?" Trust between police and the community is critical because police get information, explains Anderson, when someone runs afoul of the law, blames someone else, and then "they come to us and tell us what's going on."

All of which leads to the question of community outreach. SPD spokesperson Dick Cottam says there is no one at the department who speaks Russian, nor is there anyone assigned to work with Russian speakers to build the trust that's lacking. Budget cuts to the department have reduced the number of community liaison officers and Cottam says any improvement is "at least three years off." The suspicion from the Slavic community is understandable, says Cottam. "Because of their language, culture and history, they tend to be clannish, like any group. That's true everywhere. But it also keeps them from mixing in and becoming part of the community."

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