The disappearance of Dulce Alavez opens the door to better dialogue between police and the Latinx community
Nearly two years since first being reported missing, Bridgeton, New Jersey has taken a new approach as they continue the search to find her, guided first by building trust.
It has been well over 600 days since Dulce Alavez was last seen and reported missing.
On Sept. 16, 2019, the then-five-year old Alavez went missing while playing at a park with her younger brother in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Nearly 21 months later, Alavez has yet to be found, though it is believed by the authorities that she was abducted.
During a recent interview with Action News, Noema Alavez Perez, the now 7-year-old girl’s mother, detailed why many in the community have felt uneasy about speaking out.
"For the community, when everything started, they were scared they were going to get deported because Bridgeton is mostly Mexicans,” she said.
According to the city’s census, more than 49% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
"We believe there are witnesses out there who saw the abductor, who saw the vehicle in the area of the park and either haven't come forward because they're afraid to come forward or haven't come forward because they don't realize how important the information is that they have," FBI special agent Daniel Garrabrant told 6ABC prior to the one-year anniversary of her disappearance.
As the search for Dulce Alavez continues, the Bridgeton Police Athletic League launched an indoor soccer league as a way to help foster the relationship and trust between the Spanish-speaking community, youth and police.
“What we really wanted to do was really go out and extend our hand to let you know that we were really behind you,” Officer Josh Thompson told ABC News.
The indoor soccer league has functioned to make the immigrant, Spanish-speaking and overall community in Bridgeton feel more comfortable to come forward and talk to law enforcement without the same level of fears and concerns, both in terms of this case, and others.
More than 40 children regularly attend the soccer practices. The program also offers counseling sessions, GED instructions and nutrition classes for parents.
“You don't have to worry about if you're a citizen,” said Thompson. “We're trying to focus on trying to find this young lady and if you have any information, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
The trust and comfort levels between the community and police could be the determining factor as to when Dulce Alavez is found, and could reduce the frequency of this type of event occurring again.
In 2007, the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. implemented a new policing strategy to reduce violence by rebuilding the relationship between the police and communities. By having the officers go into the neighborhoods and get to know the people they protect and serve, they gained trust, and the city saw its homicide rate decrease by more than half in the subsequent five years.
The program in Bridgeton will aim to help bring the community together, connect and become stronger while the search for Dulce Alavez continues.
Noema Alavez Perez told ABC News that she was grateful that her daughter’s case hasn’t been forgotten, despite being open for nearly two years.
“They’re not like giving up on her, they keep sharing her posts,” she said. “And there’s even a tree in the park about her so every time kids or adults go there, they see her tree and there’s a picture of her there.”
As the search continues, a reward for information that leads to her being found, as well as an arrest, stands at up to $75,000.
Anyone with information pertaining to this case is encouraged to call the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2554, or the Bridgeton Police Department at 856-451-0033.
You can also report anonymous tips to the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office by clicking here.
Another option is to call the FBI's Toll-Free Tip Line at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) and select option 4, then select option 8, or submit an anonymous tip to the agency online.
Spanish speakers can call 856-207-2732.