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BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

Speaking more than one language for a better policing


Domingo Peralta Jr.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Author Note
Domingo Peralta Jr., Criminology major, John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Contact: Domingo.Peralta@jjay.cuny.edu

BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

Abstract
This paper explores 7 sources regarding the impact of bilingual officers within society. Two of
these articles expand upon the difficulties two states have encountered due the increase of
minorities throughout their communities. Mostly all of the sources incorporate actions law
enforcements have taken in order to adjust to this increase over the years. Aside from online
information, this paper will include the perspectives and experiences of a former NYPD Captain
along with an officer in Oakland. The purpose of this compositions is to inform the reader the
actions that must be taken in order to maintain a balance between the people and the law.

BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

Over the years policing and the justice system have become one of my greatest interest.
This ultimately played a major role in my life while deciding what career path I wanted to
follow. As a student at John Jay majoring in Criminology, my goal is to be part of some form of
law enforcement within the United States. Growing up I had the opportunity to learn another
language and become fluent. This experience provides me with an advantage over those who
arent bilingual as I can communicate with more individuals. This ability is crucial with policing
due to the fact that as a Hispanic-American I can relate to the Spanish speaking community.
Policing refers to the ideology of maintaining order within society by the use of police or
military as mentioned in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. These forms of law enforcement are
used to impose regulations to the people. These rules are used to ensure safety throughout the
individual's. Many officers possess the ability to speak another languages in order to
communicate with the different kinds of people throughout the United States. This ability is
known as being bilingual which is the skill to speak two languages. Over the years this has
proven to be very beneficiary as it helps fight crime. The article Police department seeking
more bilingual cops(2011) quotes Susan Shah of the Vera institute of Justice in New York. She
proclaims To fight crime you have to be able to communicate this is significant as the people
and police force should be able to communicate for the greater good.
Living in New York we are accustomed to the bright lights, skyscrapers and the diversity
of people. New York is one of the few states within the United States which is considered a
melting pot of different races, cultures, traditions and languages. Due to this the law enforcement
reflects the people and is greatly diverse. Many of the officers are fluent in different languages
which assist them in communicating with minorities. According to Police departments seeking

BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

more bilingual cops one-third of NYPD employees can speak a second language. Across the
U.S there are many states that encounter conflicts with minorities due to the fact that they arent
able to communicate. States like New York have found ways to adapt to the people. This has led
me to believe that bilingualism is pivotal in order to police a diverse United States. There are
many actions law enforcement can take such as recruiting bilingual officers and different forms
of training. The people should be able to communicate with officers in order to keep a balance
between them.
In the United States of America, states such as North Carolina have difficulties
communicating with non-English speakers due to the large amount of Caucasians within the
Force. An article posted by Asheville Citizens- Times elaborates on the need to hire more
bilingual individuals. According to the Article, North Carolina had the fastest growing Latino
population during the 1990s. Without having the ability to communicate with the Hispanic
Population, tragedies have occurred. Many believe efforts to recruit these bilingual individuals
should become a priority in order to ensure safety within the society. Also current police officers
are influenced into taking a Spanish in order to improve Spanish skills. These measurements
taken by the North Carolina law enforcement are crucial in order to move forward as minorities
continue to increase. This is very different compared to the Miami Police department as
mentioned in Bilingual Police officers: Policing in a diverse America by Hector Garcia (2006)
as many of the officers are able to speak Spanish. The article states that about 600 of 1,000
officers speak another language due to the population being predominantly bilingual.
As a primary source to support my position on the importance of bilingual officers, I
interviewed my brother-in-law. Moses Reyes, a former NYPD Captain was able to elaborate on
his personal experiences and views regarding the topic. During the interview he discussed how

BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

being able to speak another language assisted him over his glorious 22 year career. Reyes
mentioned being able to speak Spanish allowed him furthermore understand his surroundings,
along with receiving suspect descriptions and giving directions, It also allowed him to retrieve
missing children from Spanish speaking parents and provide faster assistance during an
emergency. However, his inability to speak mandarin played a factor over one of his cases.
During this case, an Asian delivery man had been robbed but Reyes couldn't understand him due
to the language barrier. Luckily his partner during the time was of Asian descent and was able to
communicate with the victim. This quickly led to the arrest of the perpetrator and demonstrated
the importance of being bilingual. When I asked Reyes about what actions can be taken in order
to assist the language barrier he mentioned To try recruit officers from the neighborhoods you
need those languages represented. This is significant and plays a role with which precinct some
officers are assigned to. Reyes stated that in Communities prevalent by a certain ethnic
background, more officers who can speak their language are assigned. Throughout the interview,
I concluded Reyes is a strong advocate for bilingual officers as a second language allows you to
communicate with more individuals. As he mentioned it allows you to provide a better service to
the people and help fight crime.
As minorities increase throughout the United States, law enforcement have made various
efforts to adjust. These efforts consist of trainings and recruiting more bilingual officers or
personnel to help aid the language barrier. As mentioned in Police department seeking more
bilingual cops(2011) police departments across the U.S have made efforts to employ bilingual
officers and sending cops abroad to learn a language. The article also touches upon how states
such as New York don't always rely on officers as the precincts are equipped with translators.
These translator are able to inform the officer in order assist the victim. Aside from these efforts

BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

police departments are providing basic training on certain languages. For example according to
OKCs bilingual police officers help bridge communication gap (2015) Oklahoma City Police
Academy recruits receive 70 to 80 hours of basic Spanish. This training allows these future
officers to furthermore communicate with Spanish speaking individuals. Aside from getting to
know a language, officers can also be introduced into different cultures in order to properly
police. Policing an increasingly diverse America by Sherman Block(1994) elaborates on four
cities in Los Angeles, California and how they have dealt with diversity. Block states The
training begins with a 36-hour cultural diversity course in the academy this allows these
individuals to receive an understanding of a culture with their norms. Overall the United States
as whole has made an ample amount of effort to continue adapt to the Diverse America.
Allan Cruz a Honduran native, who is now an Oklahoma City officer has used his ability
to speak Spanish throughout his career. As mentioned in OKCs bilingual police officers help
bridge communication gap by Darla Slipke(2015) eighty percent of the cities citizens speak
English proficiently meanwhile fourteen percent speak Spanish and the remainder Vietnamese.
Throughout the article Cruz recalls a few instances in which he was able to assist individuals by
speaking his native language. One experience Cruz spoke about was visiting a man at the
hospital who had been slashed with a knife. After speaking to the man in Spanish, he discovered
crucial information about what had occurred to him. The man explained to Cruz he didnt report
the incident to the police because he believed he wouldn't have been able to communicate with
them. Cruz informed the man about how the department has bilingual officers qualified to assist
all kinds of people. It is pivotal for individuals to communicate with law enforcement as they are
ultimately fighting for the same cause. As Slipke(2015) quotes in her excerpt, Cruz states It
helps us to solve crimes It helps us catch criminals, It helps us to find victim. These are the

BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

ways he believes being able to communicate with the society as it provides a more efficient
policing.
Bilingualism I believe is crucial when trying to maintain order within society. Society and
law enforcement must be able to communicate in order to fight crime. According to Minorities
expected to be majority in 2050(2008) minorities are projected to increase over the years. The
article also mentions how 54 pct. of the population will be minorities. This in my opinion will
greatly affect policing throughout the United States. Law enforcement will have to adapt in order
to properly police all these different kinds of people.
Across the United States, communities have felt the influence of bilingual officers as they
have proven to be beneficiary. Bilingual is the ability to speak two languages which has helped
law enforcement during policing. Policing refers to maintaining order within society by imposing
laws. States such as North Carolina have encountered difficulties while policing non-English
speakers. They have made attempts to recruit bilingual individuals and even encourage their
current officers to take a course in Spanish. Aside from North Carolina different states have
taken measures to be able to communicate with the people throughout the communities.
According to my interviewee, Captain Reyes being bilingual helps you understand your
surroundings when being in a community you understand their language. It also assist you when
giving directions or receiving descriptions of perpetrators. This ultimately provides a better
service to the people. As minorities continue to increase I believe Law Enforcement will adjust
in order to properly police. Bilingual officers are able the key to maintain order as they possess
the ability to speak to more people.

BENEFITS OF BILLINGUAL OFFICERS

References
Garcia, Hector. Bilingual Police Officers: Policing in a Diverse America. TELEMASP
Bulletin, 13.4 (Summer 2006), 1-11. ProQuest Social Sciences Premium Collection

Block, Sherman. (1994). Policing an Increasingly diverse America. The FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin, 63.6(1994), 24-24. Gale

Bennet, Brad R. Incorporating diversity: Police response to multicultural changes in their


communities. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 64.12(1995), 1-1. ProQuest Social Sciences
Premium Collection

University of North Carolina, & Asheville- Buncombe Technical Community College. (2007,
May 4). ADDING MORE BILINGUAL LAW OFFICERS IS A CHALLENGE THAT MUST
BE MET. Asheville Citizens- Times, p. B.6. (May 4, 2004). ProQuest Social Sciences Premium
Collection

Associated Press. Police department seeking more bilingual cops. NBC News. (March 11,
2010)

Darla Slipke. OKCs bilingual police officers help bridge communication gap. NewsOK.
(October 17,2015)

Minorities expected to be majority in 2050.CNN.(August 13,2008)