Home   Google ARCHIVE SEARCH: Date:

Police help community understand new language policy

By Maya Strausberg

February 22, 2008

Non-English-speaking San Franciscans got a lesson yesterday on how to take advantage of a new policy meant to bridge the language barrier between them and the city's police officers.

Civil rights leaders, attorneys and San Francisco Police Department representatives held a mid-morning informational session on the new policy at the Chinese for Affirmative Action office in Chinatown.

They explained that officers are now required to carry around a language identification card so residents can point to their primary language when communication becomes difficult.

The card explains in almost 100 languages that an interpreter will be provided free of charge.

The order, unanimously approved by the police commission in October, also defines who can act as an interpreter for those needing assistance. Except in extreme emergency situations, family members, friends, neighbors, volunteers and children may not interpret for police.

Juana Flores of the Mujeres Unidas y Activas said clarifying who can interpret is an important step, especially when it comes to domestic abuse.

Spanish-speaking wives who are being abused often have to rely on the husbands who are abusing them to communicate with the police, Flores said. The situation can get flipped, she said, when the husband intentionally misinterprets, getting the women in trouble instead.

Philip Hwang, an attorney for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, said children are too often used to interpret for their parents, which can cause stress and trauma for the kids. Parents are not always comfortable talking about domestic abuse or sexual assault in front of their children, Hwang added.

The police department defined an order of preference for oral interpretation during non emergencies. If possible, police will provide direct communication by a qualified bilingual member as established by the Department of Human Resources.

If that is not an option, a qualified civilian interpreter who has been certified by the city or other designated qualifying agency can be used.

When neither of those is an option, officers can use a telephone interpreter through the Monterey-based company, Language Line Services, which offers more than 170 languages.

When available, the policy requires all written forms, including the Miranda admonition, to be provided in the primary language.

According to police Chief Heather Fong, the goal of the new protocol is to provide the highest level of service regardless of background.

"All of us working together can provide the best level, the highest level of service," she said.

Fong went on to introduce Lisa Torres as the department's new Language Access Liaison officer, who will help monitor translation and interpreter services and training.

Torres will prepare quarterly reports for Fong and biannual reports for the police commission.

Office of Citizen Complaints policy analyst Samara Marion said not many cities have protocol regarding police language access but Summit County, Ohio and Philadelphia had policies that helped inspire the new San Francisco general order.

San Francisco now has one of the strongest policies in the country, according to Marion.

That's appropriate, said Asian Law Caucus attorney Angela Chan, considering immigrants makes up 37 percent of the city's population, and growing.

"More immigrant families will feel more comfortable going to the police to report crime," Chan said.

She also urged local organizations who support non-English speakers to post signs explaining their rights to interpreter services and that if police do not offer the service, they can report it by calling (415) 241-7711.

The agencies and organizations that worked on the order with the Police Department included the Asian Law Caucus, a legal and civil rights organization that serves low-income Asian Pacific-American communities; the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, which offers legal assistance to immigrants and people of color; Chinese for Affirmative Action, which aims to protect the political and civil rights of Chinese-Americans; Mujeres Unidas y Activas, an organization that works for the social justice of Latina immigrant women; the Office of Citizen Complaints, a city department that investigates complaints against the Police Department; and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which works to preserve the protections of the Bill of Rights.







The Hunger Site

Cooking Classes
in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires B&B

Calitri in southern Italy

L' Aquila in Abruzzo

Health Insurance Quotes


Bruce Brugmann's


Civic Center

Dan Noyes

Greg Dewar

Griper Blade


Malik Looper






MetroWize Urban Guide

Michael Moore

N Judah Chronicles


Robert Solis

SF Bay Guardian





SFWillie's Blog



Sweet Melissa