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Putting Everyone on the Same Page

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 29 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2002 Pages: 104-105,108,110
Donna Rogers
Date Published
October 2002
4 pages
This article discusses the language barrier currently affecting law enforcement agencies.
The 2000 Census Bureau reflects the increase in the Hispanic/Latino population. Their representation was 57 percent higher in 2000 than in 1990. They now make up 12.5 percent of the total population. The percentage of individuals that speak a foreign language at home jumped from 32 percent to 40 percent during the same time period. There was an increase in Latinos and Hispanics in the Midwest and Pennsylvania. Lack of communication due to the language barrier can have disastrous effects. Discrimination can be a factor also. A variety of issues challenge agencies when two or more languages are spoken in their jail or jurisdiction. Recruitment, hiring, and assigning officers gets complicated. A police supervisor needs to assign Hispanic officers with Spanish-speaking prisoners. Departments have begun to address the language issue by seeking a mix of bilingual officers in the hiring/screening process; by training officers in conversational language; and by matching up appropriate officers to appropriate beats and assignments. Departments often train their officers to speak commands in a second language, usually Spanish, predominantly spoken in their jurisdictions. Understanding people that need help is one of the biggest problems facing police. The Rassias Foundation is designed to spread communications, to teach language, and to support language-teaching techniques. “Help me” are the first words taught at this course. The course also takes culture into account. Speaking the language of a suspect during an interrogation can be extremely important because an interpreter may not translate accurately. The Berlitz Language Center tailors courses for law enforcement officers. These courses are all conversational. Potential for conflict of interest exists when an investigator that does an electronic surveillance sits on his or her own Title III (call content) wiretap. Translation for a high-level investigation requires a native speaker as well as one that understands the culture of the spoken language because informal conversations between drug traffickers and/or other criminals tend to contain slang and colloquialisms.


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