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Dustin Robinson

Boise Police Department's Refugee Liaison

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According to The Washington Post, Idaho takes in more than 68 refugees for every 100,000 residents, making it one of the most welcoming states for displaced people in the country. The Boise Police Department responded to the City of Trees' growing population of new Americans by creating a refugee liaison position in 2006.

Since 2012, that job has been held by Officer Dustin Robinson, who coordinates with service providers, educates refugees on their rights and responsibilities in America, and trains officers to deal with situations where refugees are involved.

What are the strengths and challenges of the refugee community?

Refugees that come here are survivors. Refugees with the trauma and histories that they've faced, come from very oppressed areas where sometimes they weren't even treated as human beings. They come here without the full understanding of what life in the U.S. is like.

You regularly give presentations to incoming refugees. What do you tell them?

We discuss that calling 911 is free of charge, that filing a police report is free of charge, that you can get fire department, paramedics—all can come and there's no payment. We talk about what our criminal justice system looks like.

What might surprise refugees most about how law enforcement works in the U.S.?

That they don't have to pay police officers to get assistance. They don't have to partake in bribery. ... They would anticipate that should you get pulled over, there's an immediate fee to be paid when the officer walks up.

How do refugees' cultural differences pose a challenge to law enforcement?

It gives us an opportunity to work with members of the refugee community. By having those interpreters that are stakeholders and community leaders, they can be cultural brokers for us.

What happens when seconds count?

In those emergency situations we can use family, friends, neighbors to calm the scene down. Once the scene is calm, start making telephone calls to the language line. In the worst scenarios we play a little "charades" for a few minutes.

Have you had conversations that pertain to controversial police actions in other cities or the Black Lives Matter movement?

Trauma they can see on television can spark trauma that they have faced. Giving them resources within our community, we're showing that we are leveling that level of trauma they're feeling.

What's your response when someone brings up those controversial events?

We talk very transparently. Anything we can do to show what Boise is truly like and how opening and inviting it is, that's what we'll do.

What exactly are your responsibilities?

I start with doing a lot of education. I work heavily with educating our stakeholders and making sure we have resources available. We make sure refugees have an understanding of what's expected of them, what the laws are. I work with different members of the Boise Police Department and cross-division boundaries. I am in charge of the interpretive program for the city of Boise, making sure we have access to highly-skilled interpreters. If you have something that is starting to become an issue in the community, call me before it becomes a criminal matter.

How has your work changed the way rank-and-file officers respond to refugee issues?

They have a greater understanding of what trauma refugees come with and the cultural expectations they come with, and they're better able to make contact with a refugee family with more skills in their tool belt.

How has your job changed?

I'm not sure the job has changed as much as I have. I think I've learned to be a little more patient. I don't take for granted living in the United States. I don't take for granted the community I live in or the services that are provided.

What's left to be done to serve refugees?

I think we continue doing what we're doing. Each time new refugees come in, the process starts all over again. I have invitations to speak all over the United States to talk about the model BPD has created. We are by far one of the most successful cities in this model of having a refugee liaison in our community policing unit.

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