Local News

Durham Police Bring in Bilingual Officers

Posted July 14, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Those who live in a country where they can't speak the language can find life frustrating. They find that most people don't understand them and that they can sometimes be taken advantage of. In Durham, a growing Spanish-speaking community knows the frustration quite well.

Over the last two weeks dozens of Latinos in Durham have been robbed, which is bad in itself. But to further complicate matters, the language barrier has made it hard for police to investigate the crimes.

Now Durham police are trying trying to do something about breaking down the language barrier. Two weeks ago the Durham Police department received a $57,000 grant to hire 2 bilingual officers. It's a big step toward bridging the gap between the Spanish speaking community and English speaking officers.

A representative of a Durham church group called the Social Concerns Committee says the community welcomes the two officers, but would like to see even more.

Within the walls of the Immaculate Conception Catholic church there is no language barrier. The sermons and music are delivered in both English and Spanish, but after church, when members of the Latino community return to their homes, the barrier is there waiting for them. Committee member Jack Page says it's a barrier that often makes them vulnerable.

Church member Luis Cuartas says reaction to crimes is slowed by the language barrier.

Helping out is what 300 members of the church are trying to do. Page says they signed a petition asking the police department to hire not just more bilingual officers, but also bilingual 9-1-1 operators.

Durham is using the grant to hire two bilingual officers. Church member Paul Ramos says it's a move members of the Latino community hope will tear down the barriers.

Some officers say they are glad to know bilingual officers will be joining their force. They say it will be a big help out on the streets and will create a comfort zone for many crime victims.

Photographer:Lori Foushee