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COUNTYWIDE : Some Criticize Image of ‘El Protector’

He stands tall in a macho pose, wearing dark sunglasses, a denim jacket and a stony stare.

He is Roy Huerta, a California Highway Patrol officer at the center of a new CHP safety campaign unveiled Thursday in Santa Ana.

But to students and viewers of Spanish-language television in Orange County, he will become known in the coming months as “El Protector,” a mysterious figure warning Latinos about the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Faced with a sharp increase in the number of Latinos arrested for drunken driving, Orange County CHP officials hope the El Protector community service campaign will break through cultural barriers and increase awareness among Latinos in ways previous campaigns have been unable to do.

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However, several Orange County Latinos questioned whether El Protector is the right character to send the message.

“We don’t need another Zorro,” said Manuel Pena, president of the Downtown Business Assn. in Santa Ana. “We need something a little more sensitive.”

The debate comes at a time when the number of Latino arrests for drunken driving in certain areas of Orange County has nearly doubled in one year, according to a CHP survey of drunken driving arrests of people with Spanish surnames. The number of arrests and drunken-driving accidents involving Latinos is disproportionate to the number of Latinos living in Orange County, the survey found.

The El Protector campaign was designed by CHP officers in the Central Valley in 1984 to fight increased Latino drunken driving arrests and accidents there. The program--which includes classroom visits by Huerta and other CHP officers and an off-beat television public service announcement showing El Protector watching over people who might drink and drive--is credited with bringing about a 37% decrease in the number of Latinos involved in drunken driving arrests in the Central Valley.

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Several Latinos who attended Thursday’s press conference criticized El Protector for playing on the same “macho” attitudes they say are partly to blame for the large numbers of Latinos who drink and drive.

“I think it’s a great program. My concern is of the projection of this hoodlum with dark hair, mustache and glasses,” said Pena, refering to El Protector’s look.

DUI ARRESTS, INCIDENTS

The California Highway Patrol launched a community service program Thursday designed to heighten the awareness of the Latino community to the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Statistics below show what percentage of the total countywide drunk-driving arrests and accidents in 1988 and ’89 involved Latinos.

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DUI Arrests in O.C. DUI Accidents in O.C. 1988 1989 1988 1989 Capistrano Station 28% 54% 19% 23% Santa Ana 42% 68% 33% 35% Westminster 46% 52% 34% 29%

Note: Latinos make up 15% of Orange County’s population

Source: California Highway Patrol


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