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Durham Police Bring in Bilingual Officers

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DURHAM — Those who live in a country where they can'tspeak the language can find life frustrating. They find that mostpeople don't understand them and that they can sometimes be takenadvantage of. InDurham, a growing Spanish-speaking community knows the frustration quitewell.

Over the last two weeks dozens of Latinos in Durham have been robbed,which is bad in itself. But to further complicate matters, the languagebarrierhas 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 receiveda $57,000 grant to hire 2 bilingual officers. It's a big step toward bridging the gap between the Spanish speaking community and Englishspeaking officers.

A representative of a Durham church group called the Social ConcernsCommittee says the community welcomes the two officers, but would like tosee even more.

Within the walls of the Immaculate Conception Catholic church there isno language barrier. The sermons and music are delivered in both Englishand Spanish, but after church, when members of the Latino communityreturn 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 thelanguage 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 notjust more bilingual officers, but also bilingual 9-1-1 operators.

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

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

Photographer:Lori Foushee

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