Albuquerque Police Launch New Language Access Program

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Providing language access for limited English proficient (LEP) people is invariably best guided by effective training and policies that inform the details of providing such access.

The Albuquerque, NM Police Department has launched a new, first-time language access program to educate Police Academy students about how to navigate successfully through encounters with people who speak little or no English.

According to Census data, approximately 26% of Albuquerque residents speak languages other than English. Spanish is the most widely spoken language other than English, with nearly 21% of city residents speaking Spanish.

As described by the Migration Policy Institute:

“Approximately 67,357 Albuquerque residents (the City’s population in 2023 was nearly 1,000,000 people) speak little or no English and 5% of the total population of Albuquerque report having a hearing disability. Immigrants are not the only Limited English Proficiency populations. Some Native New Mexicans are also English-language learners.”

 

The police department’s new policy, known as The Language Access Project, will enable police recruits to effectively communicate with LEP people whom they encounter in their future work. As reported by KRQE-13 News:

“Language can sometimes make or break a critical piece of a police investigation, or change how an arrest goes down, and Albuquerque Police officers haven’t always had exact guidance on how to navigate interactions outside of English.

However, the department is now taking a new approach to breaking down the language barrier. ‘This is the very first time ever that we have this training,’ said Joseline Segovia, language access coordinator with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).

With one of the largest cadet classes the Albuquerque Police Academy has had in a decade, Segovia is pioneering a protocol for police for what to do when dealing with people they may not understand. ‘The Language Access Program is an initiative to promote equity by ensuring that the Albuquerque Police Department can communicate with people who don’t speak English,’ Segovia said, ‘And that way we ensure that everyone can get the same rights that English speakers normally do.’

 

The first Language Access Project class began in late 2023. Segovia started by teaching police academy cadets about Albuquerque’s language diversity and discussing step by step recommendations for how to proceed when meeting LEP people.

As reported by KRQE-13 News:

“The course includes teaching cadets how to look for patterns and recognize the difference between someone who’s not complying and someone who simply doesn’t understand the command.

We just don’t want to infringe on their rights so I’m teaching them that we do have certified interpreters so that they know and then if an interpreter is not available, that we do have a third-party vendor that we use so that they can contact an interpreter in 240 languages over the phone,’ Segovia said…

‘I think it’s really important because we have … so much diversity here in Albuquerque and people need the police. They’ll at some point need the police and if they can’t communicate with them, don’t feel comfortable with them, they’ll probably feel like they can’t call again,’ said Jaquelin Hernandez, Albuquerque Police Academy cadet.

The training includes other tools, too, like language I-D cards police can give out to people they encounter while on duty. ‘I want people that speak a language other than English to know that they have rights and with the Albuquerque Police Department they can request an interpreter and then with those services to access our department services,’ Segovia said.

APD plans to expand this training to all sworn officers and civilian personnel who deal with the public in the future.”

APD’s new language access comes at an auspicious time. In December 2023, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division, issued a letter to law enforcement agencies about the salience of language access programs.

As Assistant Attorney General Clarke wrote:

“In order to effectively protect and serve communities and carry out their vitally important mission, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) must be able to communicate in an accurate and timely manner with all members of the public, regardless of language spoken.

Every day, law enforcement personnel across the country interview witnesses, victims, and subjects; communicate vital information to the communities they serve; and maintain phone lines and websites to facilitate the flow of information. Yet all too often, individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP), those who have a limited ability to speak, read, write, or understand the English language, face greater hurdles when seeking the protection of or communicating with state and local LEAs.

Many LEAs receive federal financial assistance, mostly in the form of federal grant funding. A condition of that assistance is compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. (Title VI), a law that prohibits national origin discrimination by recipients. Although the award or grant of money is the clearest example of federal financial assistance, an LEA’s use or rental of federal property or land at below market value, federal training, a loan of federal personnel, and federal subsidies also subject an LEA to the language access requirements of Title VI…

Through the Civil Rights Division’s longstanding work enforcing Title VI and the Safe Streets Act, we have seen what can happen when language barriers prevent accurate communication between law enforcement and the communities they serve. We have seen that a failure to provide such meaningful access can chill reporting of crimes, leave victims and witnesses with LEP vulnerable to flawed investigations and even wrongful arrest, and threaten the safety of officers and the general public alike. Without sufficient plans, procedures, and trainings in place to respond to the needs of community members with LEP, LEAs struggle with a range of issues, including: • identifying whether a person is limited English proficient; • proceeding in English during interactions with individuals who have LEP; • improperly crediting English-speaking witness accounts over those of individuals with LEP; • relying on unqualified staff, bystanders, family members, or automated/electronic applications for language assistance; and/or • providing important documents such as citations only in English.”

 

The December letter references DOJ’s 2022 Law Enforcement Language Access Initiative to support LEAs, as well as communities that are limited English proficient. DOJ will likely continue its education and enforcement efforts to ensure that federally funded law enforcement agencies are communicating in languages understood by the communities that they serve.

 

 

© Bruce L. Adelson 2023. All Rights Reserved The material herein is educational and informational only.  No legal advice is intended or conveyed.

Bruce L. Adelson, Esq., is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise.  Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Senior Trial Attorney.  Mr. Adelson is a faculty member at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he teaches organizational culture, implicit bias, cultural and civil rights awareness.

Mr. Adelson’s blogs are a Bromberg exclusive.

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