August 10, 2008

Wanted: Officers with two tongues

August 11, 2008

Bilingual cops still in demand
By Josh Burton

Requests for bilingual police officers are on the rise in Amarillo.
Over the past few years there has been an increase of requests for bilingual officers, Amarillo Police Department spokesman Jerry Neufeld said. It will continue to increase.

"We do work with interpreters with many different languages," he said.

Most interpreters are provided through Catholic Family Services, Neufeld said.

The APD contacts CFS between one and three times per week, said Lori Bigham, supervisor of refuge resettlement.

CFS, funded by the Texas Department of Health, interprets for refugees to improve access to health care, immigration and social services in Potter and Randall counties, along with helping the APD. CFS received $2,725,386 from government grants and contracts in fiscal year 2006, the most updated amount available, Bigham said. That accounted for 77 percent of funding.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance, such as CFS, Bigham said.

"We established the service in 2000. We were seeing a growing need for interpreting services," Bigham said.

CFS at the time had case managers on staff with several different languages and as the diversity of the city grew, so did the need for new languages, she said.

Currently, APD has one officer who speaks a Native American language and about 40 that speak Spanish, including 12-year veteran Cpl. Oscar Garcia.

He works as a school liaison officer and helps officers when a translator is needed during the summer.

Garcia interviews witnesses or victims, he said.

"It may be my day off and (I'll) get called in to assist," Garcia said.

"You can get pulled from assignments and go clear across to the other side of town and help interpret."

More officers are called out during the evening shift, he said. The numbers of times will vary from a few times a week to numerous times a week.

"Sometimes it is frustrating or difficult, because you get pulled and sometimes that's what you do is interpret. It does create a lot more work," Garcia said.

Officers aren't the only ones with heavy workloads.

CFS has 14 staff members that speak 19 dlanguages and has 36 contract interpreters, Bigham said.

CFS has a 24-hour phone line for those who need a translator.

"The majority of the time, it's a language that we can respond quickly to," Bigham said. "We help in a variety of ways."

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