Denver cops give 911-only cellphones to refugees worried about recent attacks
Recent beatings of South Asian refugees have prompted Denver police to hand out cellphones to newcomers from abroad.
The hope is that the emergency-only phones, which require no payments, will help refugees reach paramedics and police to prevent future trouble, said Scott Snow, director of the Denver police Victim Assistance Unit.
“It gives a sense of security,” Snow said.
A dozen refugee victims of recent attacks now carry police-issued phones. Police are talking with a potential corporate partner to supply 50 phones, he said. Ultimately, police aim to give phones to all refugees, along with orientation information and safety tips.
On Dec. 11, a group of men beat and robbed teenage refugees from Bhutan in east Denver, following them from an RTD bus, according to police.
Six were beaten, one requiring emergency-room treatment. The attack spread fear among refugees from Bhutan, Burma and elsewhere — who are concentrated in low-rent apartments and have been victims of previous robberies.
“If they kill me and my son, what will my daughter and wife do?” said Dambar Bhujel, father of an 18-year-old victim, who is now wary of letting his son go to school.
“At first, I was happy to come to the United States. After one year, I’m feeling very bad and I don’t want to stay longer. But we can’t go back to Bhutan and we can’t go back to Nepal,” Bhujel said. “They told us America was secure.”
A police-issued cellphone to call 911 helps — but arresting the attackers would be better, he said.
The U.S. government granted the refugees special permission to enter the country as protection from persecution in Asia. Violence in Denver “is not what they expected,” Snow said.
Police and social workers launching the cellphone initiative “aren’t talking about putting $300 BlackBerrys into the hands of these people, but we want good equipment so people can count on it working,” he said. “This is concrete. It gives immediate contact with emergency services. It’s one step to building a bridge to a community that is traditionally underserved.”
Police increased surveillance on RTD buses after the Dec. 11 attack, which followed several assaults and robberies reported in May.
This time when police arrived, about 50 refugees approached. Many spoke little English. “Several members of the group had been assaulted by a large group of black males,” the report said.
No arrests have been made. “It’s possible it is bias-motivated,” police spokesman Lt. Ron Saunier said. Detectives “are still looking at that aspect of it.”
Police also are looking into a possible retaliatory assault, Saunier said.
Officers recently attended a community meeting in a basement apartment where elders and a social worker expressed worries.
“You have older folks. Usually they don’t speak the language. You have younger people. There’s a feeling of fear. Uncertainty. ‘What do we do?’ ” Denver District 3 Commander Kris Kroncke said. “Sometimes we’ve had incidents were people are hesitant to come forward.”
Police previously have issued emergency-only cellphones, giving text and voice access to 911 dispatchers, to help low-income victims of domestic violence.
These efforts are appreciated, said Paul Stein, director of refugee services in the Colorado Department of Human Services. Federal funding for refugee resettlement is insufficient for safer apartments, Stein said.
“Affordability drives everything,” he said. “The newest to arrive are the most vulnerable. Bullies will target who is available and who is the most vulnerable.”
Source: Denver Post)