The Jackson, Miss. Police Department is now requiring its officers to take a Spanish language course four times a year as a condition of employment.
“The purpose of this program is for our officers to learn basic commands,” police Chief Lee Vance told Fox News Latino. “We’re not looking to make anybody fluent.”
The quarterly classes are only two hours long, which Vance admits “will definitely not get them there,” but said it’s at least a beginning.
“The program is designed for people who have no knowledge of the Spanish language,” Dr. Brian Phillips said, who is one of the class’s volunteer instructors. He believes it’s critical for all first responders to learn Spanish.
“Anytime you have a life-threatening situation, you could be causing problems for that person who does not understand the system when there is a language barrier,” Phillips added.
Leaders in the Hispanic community hail the department’s efforts.
“There’s been a major problem throughout the state,” said Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance Executive Director Bill Chandler. “Latino immigrants have been reluctant to call law enforcement.”
Karla Vazquez, a legal assistant and interpreter for a local law firm agrees.
“I’ve been here [in Mississippi] since 2005 and I can see there is a lot of miscommunication,” said Vazquez, who grew up in Mexico. “I see it with police officers and I see it in court.”
But others argue that the department is placing the responsibility to be able to communicate effectively on the wrong group.
“We should be encouraging legal immigrants to become citizens learning English,” said Bob Dane, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “It is a disincentive for immigrants to learn English when we fully accommodate their every need and the language of their choice.”
Whatever happened to, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?
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