As 2022 ends, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced two new language access developments concerning law enforcement agencies.
First, DOJ launched a new Law Enforcement Language Access Initiative (LELAI), which DOJ described as a “nationwide campaign to assist law enforcement agencies and departments” in complying with their language access obligations to provide limited English proficient (LEP) people with meaningful access to federal subsidized programs, services, and activities.
As DOJ has previously stated:
“Ensuring language access is not only good practice: it is also the law. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance. The prohibition on national origin discrimination requires recipients to take reasonable steps to ensure that LEP persons have meaningful access to the same benefits, services, information, and any other vital aspect of the recipient’s programs or activities as everyone else.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke announced the new initiative. She explained that “Providing law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to ensure effective and meaningful language access promotes and advances greater safety for limited English proficient people. Through this Initiative, we will be able to share these language access best practices and similar resources with law enforcement agencies all across the country.” Assistant Attorney General Clarke leads DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which is based in D.C.
According to DOJ’s press release, the Language Access Initiative will involve collaboration between DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in D.C., and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout the country. U.S. Attorneys are located in all fifty states, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. U.S. Attorneys are nominated by the president and serve as the chief federal law enforcement officers in their jurisdictions.
As DOJ states, the LELAI will:
“Develop technical assistance resources and tools that can assist local and state law enforcement agencies in their efforts to provide meaningful language access to LEP individuals and populations within their jurisdiction.
Affirmatively engage law enforcement agencies that want to review, update, and/or strengthen their language access polices, plans and training.
Leverage collaboration with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to conduct trainings in communities across the country to increase awareness of language access obligations and encourage widespread adoption of best practices by law enforcement agencies.
Strengthen the department’s ties and engagement with LEP community stakeholders and LEP populations. “
Secondly, in addition to the LELAI announcement, DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado released an agreement to resolve allegations that the Denver Police Department (DPD) discriminated on the basis of national origin against LEP individuals in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits race, color, and national origin discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance. The DPD receives federal funding from DOJ as do many state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies across the country. Federal investigators uncovered multiple situations where children, family members and bystanders were relied upon by DPD for language assistance, including in circumstances where more reliable and objective language assistance should have been provided and was available.
“This agreement with the Denver Police Department will help police officers do their jobs,” said Matthew Kirsch, Attorney for the United States, Acting under Authority Conferred by 28 U.S.C. §515 for the District of Colorado. “Whether it’s conducting community outreach or arresting individuals accused of breaking the law, ensuring ready access to accurate language services enables officers to serve and protect all members of the community, regardless of English proficiency.”
The Denver Post further reported that DOJ’s investigation revealed:
“DPD officers arrested limited English proficiency individuals without informing them of the charges against them in a language they could understand; used minors to provide language assistance; and relied on unqualified individuals to provide language assistance on behalf of DPD officers.
The Department of Justice agreed to a settlement with the Denver Police Department that will require police to implement new policies and training regarding translation services. The department will update its policy to prohibit the use of bystanders and family members for translation services, except in exigent circumstances.
Denver police Chief Ron Thomas said in an emailed statement that “Denver is culturally vibrant and diverse, and as populations evolve, so must our tools and training so that we can best serve all of our community — especially limited English-proficient residents who may already be reluctant to report crime or engage with police. We embrace this opportunity to improve language access for those we serve.”
DOJ’s investigation of the DPD began after community members raised concerns about incidents involving Burmese and Rohingya-speaking LEP residents living in the East Colfax area of Denver. The investigation revealed numerous instances where DPD officers failed to provide language assistance to LEP individuals or provided language assistance that was ineffective or inappropriate. For example, the federal investigation uncovered situations where children, family members and bystanders were relied upon for language assistance, including in circumstances where more reliable and objective language assistance was available.
As part of this settlement agreement, the DPD agreed to implement changes to its language access policies, procedures and training, including:
“Updating its Language Access Policy and Plan in order to establish procedures for communicating with LEP individuals, including witnesses and suspects, and to prohibit the use of children, family members, or bystanders to communicate with LEP individuals, except in exigent circumstances;
Appointing its first-ever LEP Coordinator and establish Language Access Points of Contact (LAPCs) in every DPD district;
Training all DPD employees and new recruits on identifying, communicating with, and documenting interactions with LEP individuals; and
Creating a Language Access Committee that includes stakeholders representing LEP community interests.”
DPD will also provide DOJ with status reports every six months. These reports will include:
“Notes and attendance from Language Access Committee meetings; Data reflecting language assistance services provided by DPD staff and the languages in which such services were provided; Usage of telephone interpretation by language; Language access trainings provided, including number of trainings, scheduled dates for future training, training curricula, trainers, and lists of attendees; List of assessed (or newly assessed) bilingual officers; Copies of Vital Documents in both English and translated into the target language(s); and Frequency and resolution of complaints related to language access.”
The settlement agreement will last for three years. During this time, DOJ will monitor DPD’s compliance with the agreement. As the agreement states:
“The Parties will meet, either in person or by video conference, at least every six months, or more frequently upon the request of either Party, to discuss DPD’s progress in executing the Agreement, any problems encountered, and any recommendations for further improvement.”
The agreement is posted at this link: https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1558796/download
© Bruce L. Adelson 2022. 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.