Progress made in reaching Haitian community, but more steps needed, leaders say

Leaders of Orlando’s Haitian-American community are applauding efforts local agencies have made in reaching their corners of the county, but say more steps are needed to make sure important information reaches them in a timely manner.

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies made a concerted effort to push out such information in recent months, following a string of attacks on Haitian Creole-speaking women at bus stops.


Deputies caught the suspect, Nelson Odige, Thursday, and said he asked the women which languages they spoke before he assaulted them.

“We knew that we needed to let the Haitian Creole-speaking community know that there was this person out there targeting women at bus stops, and we wanted to get the message out there by translating safety alerts for the community that way they were aware,” OCSO Public Information Officer Sgt. Sergio Uribe said.

Read: Man arrested, accused of sexually assaulting 4 women at Pine Hills bus stops

Uribe said translating the notices and the agency’s website was one of the steps it has taken to better serve the population. Hiring more Haitian Creole-speaking staff was another. Uribe estimated the agency had about 20.

However, Haitian Creole was one of many languages deputies may encounter. Uribe said the agency works with a company that provides access to translators for most world languages with a simple phone call.

Read: Deputies warn public to stay vigilant after 3 women attacked at Orange County bus stops

He said his agency’s goal was to add a citizen’s police academy specifically targeting that language, in addition to their academies in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

“That would be awesome to see this agency -- and law enforcement as a whole -- show people that we can do these things,” he said.

Representation and engagement are the main goals of the area’s Haitian-American community leaders, who say they’re often the last to know about information in Central Florida.

Read: ‘Avoid walking alone’: Search underway for man who robbed, sexually attacked 2 women near bus stop

“It oftentimes does get left behind because they just don’t have anything in writing in the language,” Greater Haitian American Chamber of Commerce President Marlyn Bronzil-Juste said. “This is where we come in.”

Bronzil-Juste said better representation would make more agencies and organizations aware of the community’s needs and habits, while consistent interactions work to build trust.

She gave the example of organizations knowing to turn to church leaders when they needed a message shared, since religion continues to be a foundation of the community.

However, she said much of Central Florida still had a ways to go – aside from copying OCSO’s lead of translating documents into Haitian Creole.

“Show up to meetings,” she said. “That way they can get direct access and legitimate information that can in fact, save a life or two.”

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