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Bridging the Language Divide: Promising Practices for Law Enforcement

NCJ Number
Susan Shah; Rodolfo Estrada
Date Published
February 2009
68 pages
Based on a national assessment of best practices for overcoming language barriers in policing, this report describes eight of the most promising practices.
One promising practice is a citywide needs assessment prior to investing in language services. The Storm Lake Police Department in Iowa used a citywide assessment in order to identify residents' need for services in their own languages; this led to the development of two new positions in order to address those needs. In Nashville, TN, the Metro Nashville Police Department recognized a serious problem with delivering traumatic news to Spanish-speaking residents, which led to the enlisting of Spanish-speaking chaplains. A second promising practice is to research what has worked in other jurisdictions and tailor it to local needs. A third promising practice is to maximize resources. One police department drew upon civilians with existing language skills in filling new staff positions. Another agency made it easier for officers to access its interpreters by providing the interpreters with dispatch radios and police cars. A fourth promising practice is to leverage partnerships with members of the nonprofit, business, academic, and social services communities. One police department, for example, created a partnership with a local business that provided free products and services for a volunteer interpreter program. A fifth promising practice is to enlist volunteers. The Boise Police Department (Idaho) enlisted volunteers to meet an immediate need for interpreters and then adapted the volunteer interpreter program to a new program of paid interpreters. A sixth promising practice is to improve personnel skills by providing language-learning opportunities to police units that work in areas of the jurisdiction composed of high proportions of non-English-speaking residents. Other promising practices are to institutionalize an effective language program into a department's budget and also use data to assess programs and improve their operation. Appended supplementary information on programs assessed, a listing of the programs assessed, and a listing of 32 resources