Police departments navigate language barrier with growing Hispanic population

Boise PD implemented a new Spanish learning program. Now, other departments detail how they navigate language barriers.
Posted at 9:52 PM, Mar 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-13 00:25:54-04

Boise Police Department's Sgt. Sara Hill works with School Resource Officers, and now, with a new certificate in hand, she can tell you how many.

"Ocho detectivos en las escuelas," said Hill.

Chief Bill Bones said these are the beginnings of a newly implemented program being offered to all sworn staff.

"We are initiating mandatory training within our training academy for brand new officers," said Chief Bill Bones, Boise Police Department. "It gives us the ability to grow our communication with our own citizens."

And communication with citizens is important when responding to emergencies, according to Officer Ed Moreno.

"[It's] time that might be lost with that individual that needs assistance."

But not every department in the valley is finding it necessary to direct resources toward internal Spanish courses.

"We do have approximately 16 staff here at the Nampa Police Department that are fluent in Spanish and that are used daily," said Officer Joe Ramirez, Patrol Lieutenant, Nampa Police Department.

Like Boise PD had previously done, at Nampa PD, if a bilingual officer is not already on the scene, they will send a call for one.

"Obviously we want to get the best information we can to the officer," said Ramirez.

And if no one is available to interpret, they turn to a resource that all departments have: a language line.

"It's a phone number that I dial. I usually put my phone on speaker phone," said Moreno.

"It doesn't matter what language comes in, they get on the phone, they let that person communicate with the language service," said Ramirez.

But regardless of the variance in department offerings, Officer Ramirez says knowing another language has been a blessing for his career.

"It's given me a lot of opportunity to be in the middle of investigations... all sorts of different opportunities. It's opened the door. So it's a great skill to have."