In an emergency situation, clear communication is vital.
That’s not always the case as America has continued to grow, and minorities gain in numbers in every corner of the country — including right here at home in Rockingham.
In today’s police force, it is a valuable tool for officers to know how to speak Spanish, and other languages.
In a report called Overcoming Language Barriers: Solutions For Law Enforcement, the Vera Institute of Justice identifies the growing problem and offers practical ways police departments large and small can deal with a new population of non-English speaking residents.
In the report, Michael P. Jacobson, the director of the institute, highlights the problem.
The number of immigrants living within the United States is growing. Unlike in the past, however, many are settling in suburbs, small towns, and rural areas, bringing new cultures and languages to places previously unaccustomed to such cultural diversity, he wrote.
“As a result, many law enforcement agencies around the nation are dealing with unfamiliar languages as they work to ensure public safety. Overcoming these challenges is essential. When language barriers prevent immigrants from, say, reporting a crime or describing a suspect, it becomes harder for officers to provide protection or gather evidence … And police often work in high pressure situations where communication needs to happen quickly,” wrote Jacobson.
The Rockingham Police Department sees the value of educating its officers in a second language, and the department is getting help from the Spanish 3 honors class at Richmond Senior High School.
Diana Janica’s Spanish class is helping local law enforcement “develop better ways to communicate with Spanish speaking residents,” according to Police Chief Billy Kelly.
The class has begun working with the RPD and identifying its needs. Students are researching and collecting data to prepare a booklet, mobile application, or brochure to help officers when they encounter a Spanish speaker.
Because the “Spanish speaking population is coming up,” said Janica, police officers need a way to quickly and efficiently translate and communicate with residents who speak little to no English when a translator is not available.
Choosing to help the RPD was the students’ idea. “We wanted to help the community and police officers learn Spanish,” said Chelsea Convington, an 11th grader.
These high school students are providing a very real and valuable community service.
Language barriers can be deadly.
In the report referenced above, Sheriff Gene Kelly of Clark County, Ohio, explains: “Our population is much different than it was 19 years ago, when I first became sheriff. I’ve taken an oath to serve and protect all in my county, not just the ones who we can understand. There are so many times when a language barrier could cost someone his or her life.”
It’s good to know the Rockingham Police Department is taking steps to help officers interact with Spanish-speaking residents, and wonderful to see young people willing to aid in that training.