Police reach out to pushcart vendors
by Diane Sroka
Fidel Bustos has been selling fruit, chips and other treats from his pushcart on the south side for the past two years.
He knows what tastes good and which route to walk every day. But when he was robbed last year, he didn’t know what to do.
“No, I didn’t report it,” he said in Spanish. He said he figured the police wouldn’t be able to do anything and the amount was too small – $30 to $40.
However, the Milwaukee Police Department hopes to reach out to vendors such as Bustos – who had been robbed once before without reporting it – and encourage them to report armed robberies and assaults of which they are victims.
“We had gotten wind that they were being victimized,” said Sgt. Luis Gonzales. “You have to report this.”
Gonzales and several other members of the Police Department met with the heads of five south side pushcart companies Tuesday to encourage them to report when their employees are victims of crimes.
Some vendors don’t turn to the police because they may be illegal immigrants, Gonzales said, but he hopes that fear will dissolve as their relationship develops.
“We aren’t concerned about their immigration status,” Gonzales said. “We’re concerned about when they are the victim of a crime.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of its kind, according to police, and the department already considers the outreach effort successful. Two armed robbery suspects are already in custody as a result of Tuesday’s meeting, police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said.
Antonio Castillo, 71, a vendor who sometimes sits outside the original El Rey grocery store on S. Chavez Drive, said someone tried to rob him near S. 27th St. and W. Oklahoma Ave. last year, but he reported it right away.
That’s the kind of action Gonzales hopes this effort will cultivate.
“This is a good example of building community-police relations, building trust and working together with the department,” he said.
While it’s really sad that these vendors are getting robbed — many walk by my house each day — I was so happy to see this news story. With the number of local and state-level enforcement measures increasing each day, it’s good to see a few places are actually concerned about people, and crime, rather than reacting to all the ridiculous rhetoric about stealing jobs and immigrants weighing down the state budget.