Pittsburgh’s Multicultural Liaison Unit launched Wednesday to help bridge the cultural and communication gap between the Department of Public Safety and immigrant and refugee communities.
The unit is comprised of members of the mayor’s office, public safety and the police bureau, who will work with community leaders.
“Many of my community members were traumatized by people in uniform back in Bhutan,” said Khara Timsina of the Bhutanese Association of Pittsburgh, “and they still carry some fears when they meet with a police officer.”
Members of the MLU said police officers, firefighters and paramedics also need more multicultural training. One of the initial goals of the unit is to help first responders better support residents of various cultural backgrounds with limited English language skills.
“It doesn’t pretend that one side is the problem,” said co-founder of the Latino Community Center Rosamaria Cristello about the unit’s strategy. “Everyone is going to learn through this process.”
The unit will also hold community meetings and create videos in various languages explaining basic laws and protocol and how to request emergency services.
It was first proposed in Mayor Bill Peduto’s 2014 Welcoming Pittsburgh plan and was created through legislation introduced by Councilman Dan Gilman that passed this year. There are more than 66,000 foreign born residents in Allegheny County, according to the city.