[Immigrantrightsnynj] Second language big weapon in police arsenal
Immigrant Rights NYNJ
immigrantrightsnynj at list.afsc.org
Fri Feb 22 16:59:15 EST 2008
Second language big weapon in police arsenal
Friday, February 22, 2008
Last Updated Friday February 22, 2008, EST 10:35 AM
BY SAMANTHA HENRY
Recruiting officers who speak a second language is becoming as essential
to effective law enforcement as a uniform, badge and gun, police in some
North Jersey towns say.
"When you don't speak someone's language, you only isolate yourself,"
said Capt. Anthony Frato of the Cliffside Park Police Department. "We
have all these tools, all this equipment, all this training, but if we
can't communicate, none of it is any good to us."
Cliffside Park and many other smaller departments across North Jersey
have found the traditional tactics of sharing bilingual personnel among
agencies, using telephonic "language lines" or relying on bilingual
civilian personnel no longer go far enough.
Cliffside Park added Russian and Turkish speakers to its force by
recruiting auxiliary officers in those growing ethnic enclaves. Fort Lee
passed an ordinance to create special positions for bilingual officers.
Palisades Park hired an officer who speaks English, Korean and Spanish.
In Paterson, Turkish-, Arabic- and Spanish-speaking officers reflect the
community they serve. North Bergen was to add its first Arabic-speaking
Nationwide, recruitment of foreign-language speakers has become so
competitive in some areas that police departments are offering
incentives ranging from hiring bonuses to exchange programs for
English-speaking officers to study Spanish in Mexico.
In New Jersey, the ease with which a police department can hire
foreign-language recruits depends on whether it adheres to the civil
service system -- which restricts hiring to a ranked list -- or a
so-called "chief's-list" system, which gives departments more
flexibility in setting guidelines.
In "chief's-list" towns such as Cliffside Park, a department can
actively recruit for language ability, although any candidate must pass
all required state exams and be otherwise qualified.
"We select because of those languages," Chief Donald Keane said. "We
look for those assets. If we have 10 people applying and we're only
hiring five, that's a tie-breaker."
Khako "Sergio" Khanukayev, 28, a Russian-speaking officer popular among
Cliffside Park's growing Russian community, was hired as a patrolman in
2003 from the ranks of the "special police," a program of unarmed
auxiliary officers who focus on community policing.
"Being a bilingual officer, I feel I have a better understanding and am
able to help people when they need police assistance," Khanukayev said.
"If it's someone who doesn't speak English well, they're more
comfortable expressing themselves in their native language."
But recruiting officers such as Khanukayev -- the rare candidate who
meets U.S. citizenship requirements, is fluent in both English and
Russian and is savvy about both cultures -- can be a challenge. Those
who fit the bill are routinely borrowed by other departments, are more
drawn to detective work or are heavily recruited by other agencies.
In towns that follow civil service procedures, recruiting candidates
with foreign-language abilities can be a challenge. Chief Don
Ingrasselino of Elmwood Park said he struggled to hire the town's first
Spanish-speaking officer despite a pressing need. Ingrasselino asked the
state's Department of Personnel, which oversees the civil service exam,
if he could hire a Spanish-speaking candidate who scored slightly lower
than other prospects.
"They said 'No,' " Ingrasselino said. "It's hard to understand. If
there's a need, they should allow you to do it, but they don't."
Maryann Jemison, a spokeswoman for the department, said the state
maintains a separate list of law-enforcement candidates who are
state-certified as bilingual, but that departments requesting such a
candidate must still follow procedure.
Ingrasselino said the borough finally was able to find the perfect
candidate, a high-scoring, fluently bilingual hometown native, Alex
Echevarria, who became the department's first Spanish-speaking officer
"I see a difference when we're dealing with people, when you have
someone who speaks their language," Ingrasselino said. "There's a
rapport there that's different from calling a language line; they
gravitate to him right away, they appear more relaxed, more receptive,
they are more at home and more apt to tell us if they are a victim."
In Fort Lee, Hwan Ki "Anthony" Kim was hired as one of the borough's
first Korean-speaking officers in 1998, after the town passed an
ordinance creating bilingual law-enforcement positions.
Kim, now 43, emigrated from Korea at age 20 and served in the U.S.
Marines before taking the police exam at the urging of Korean-American
groups that wanted more representation for their growing North Jersey
"I wanted to do something to defend this country," Kim said. "I'm an
immigrant; I wanted to be able to say I did my part to give back."
Kim said that as a police officer, he is dedicated to serving the entire
population, regardless of ethnic background, but that a large part of
his job is acting as a bridge between cultures. He often finds himself
explaining that practices common in Korea, such as corporal punishment
against children or spouses, or keeping large amounts of cash at home,
are discouraged here.
"In any dispute, I advise them: 'You're living in America, this is how
the law applies,' " Kim said.
He urges Koreans to view the police as public servants who will respond
to them, regardless of their immigration status. He also tries to help
his fellow officers better understand Korean culture, urging them to
remove their shoes when they enter a Korean home, or explaining that
Koreans will avert their eyes when speaking to an officer -- not in
defiance, but as a sign of respect.
It is these kinds of cultural nuances that police departments
increasingly are paying attention to -- partly because of a nationwide
shift to community policing that started two decades ago, and partly as
a function of the changing demographics they serve, according to a
report released in December by the Immigration Policy Center, a
Washington, D.C.-based research institute.
The study that served as the basis for the report found that nationwide,
police officers now are four times more likely to be foreign-born than
"This is a story as old as our country," said Angela Kelley, the
director of the center. "It's also an occupation where immigrants have
traditionally gone and flourished."
But Kelley said some departments are facing a dearth of qualified
candidates. The intensity of the immigration debate in the U.S. is one
reason, she said, that some qualified immigrants shy away from pursuing
a career in law enforcement.
Another factor is cultural resistance within immigrant groups
themselves, many of which hail from countries where law enforcement is
corrupt or repressive or a career in law enforcement is seen as a
Kim said he sees the problem in trying to recruit more Korean-speaking
officers in North Jersey.
"We're not having many applicants because their parents, if they're
immigrants, look at police officers as a low-paying, dangerous,
non-respectable job," Kim said. "That's the way it was looked at in
Korea - so they don't encourage them to become police here."
The Vera Institute, a Manhattan-based research institute that focuses on
improving justice systems, is compiling a report on best practices from
police departments across the country to overcome barriers to
recruitment and bridge the language gap.
Susan Shah of the institute said several departments on the West Coast
and in the Southwest offer pay incentives for bilingual officers. In
Anaheim, Calif., Shah found the department using a three-tiered
pay-incentive system that ranged from 2.5 percent bonuses for officers
with basic second-language skills to a 7.5 percent pay differential for
those with certified interpreter abilities. Las Vegas is working on a
program to train bilingual civilian staff members in basic police
procedures, and routinely dispatches them to assist English-only
New York State has even introduced legislation to relax citizenship
requirements for law enforcement -- similar to the approach of the U.S.
military, which does not require citizenship but allows legal permanent
residents to enlist, according to the Immigration Policy Institute
report. There is strong opposition to the measure from New York police
and fire unions, which say it could hurt wages or existing recruitment
efforts and promotions.
Short of changing the citizenship requirements for law enforcement,
Kelley said departments will continue using a wide variety of tactics to
expand the language capabilities of their forces.
"It's important, because our communities are multicultural and diverse,
and for police officers to do their jobs well, they have to have the
trust of the community," Kelley said. "It's really hard to do that if
you don't understand the language."
E-mail: henrys at northjersey.com
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