El Protector

<p>El Protector Program</p>

El Protector Program

It's July 4th, and while many are out celebrating, one Washington state trooper is out teaching safety on our streets.

Trooper Oscar Garcia is part of a program providing education about road rules for those of Hispanic descent, and who may be new to the country.

Garcia is part of El Protector. It's a state patrol bridge program teaching people about driver rules and regulations.

He says many communities don't have the same kinds of rules in their home countries, and are simply not aware of requirements here, and he provides that bridge.

"People are listening, they're behaving, and they're doing what they're supposed to be doing with the help of this program," said Garcia.

Ten years ago fatal collision incidents involving Hispanic drivers in this area was at an all-time high.

Washington State Patrol established the El Protector Program.

Garcia is a major component of that program. He is bilingual, and a 16-year state patrol veteran.

"When I'm out there patrolling I make sure that people are being safe, and they're following the rules," said Garcia.

He makes several presentations each month to people of Latino descent.

He speaks to them in Spanish about driving in this state safely - and he teaches them not to fear the uniform.

"That's the reason I come out in uniform, so they recognize the uniform. I want them to know that a law enforcement officer in uniform is here to help them and serve them, and there is nothing to fear," said Garcia.
Today he is speaking to more than 70 workers at the Broetje Orchard in Prescott. He talks about alcohol, marijuana, getting a license, child safety restraints, and speeding. He answers questions patiently, and projects a feeling of warmth and understanding.

Orchard supervisor Sanjay Broetje says his employees are getting the message. "I'm grateful to have the trooper explain those safety regulations for our company and our workers. And it helps both of us to understand better when we are given the same message."

Worker Karla Garcia says mutual trust between her community and the police is key. "They still have trust issues with the police, because they see stuff on the TV and the Internet and they see how the police are. But now we see they're here for safety and they're actually looking out for people and not just trying to bust someone."

Sergio Garca feels the same way after speaking to Oscar. "We don't know the law here. These meetings actually help us a lot to know what to do."

And according to the WSP, the program is working.

The numbers of fatal collisions have been by more than half in seven counties including Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia and Yakima.

"There is change. More of them are listening, they're learning, they abide by our laws. And less of them are involved in serious collisions," said Garcia.

This is the 11th year for the program, and Garcia has been El Protector for more than eight of those years.

He says he plans to carrying that title for at least another decade.

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