SHERMAN, TX - As of 2004, Hispanics make up 14.1% of the country's population. And as that number continues to grow, communication between the Hispanic community and law enforcement designed to protect them gets more difficult.
But in Sherman, police officers are trying to improve that interaction thanks to a new program designed to teach Spanish to officers on the force.
Daniel Gotera explains.
No matter who you ask, police officers and members of the Hispanic community will say communication between both groups ranges from very good to potentially dangerous.
In Sherman, that gap could soon shrink, if a plan set forth by Police Chief Tom Watt is successfull. “Cual es el problema senor?" “Let me see your license and registration."
"No hablo Ingles, no entiendo lo que estas diciendo."
Its a situation Sherman Police see everyday, a lack of communication between them and members of the non-English speaking Hispanic community. Just Ask Ramona Moreno Aguirre. Her father has been helping translate for authorities in Grayson county since she was a little girl. “The police used to go to the store that he used to work and he would do the interpreting. Sometimes he would have to leave work and get someone to sit in and he covered everywhere."
That task falls on her shoulders today and she says the problem seems to be getting bigger as the population continues to grow. “Whether they're hear illegal or legal, they need to be dealt with. I just think a lack of communication or not understanding is the greatest fear and not knowing or understanding what is going on."
But lack of communication could soon become obsolete in Sherman. “The guys that are out in the field are the guys that really, really need it."
Chief Watt says he's been dealing with the problem for 20 years. That’s why last Monday, he presented a language initiative to the city council.
The program, known as Forces of Change, is a multi-step process to help anyone associated with the department master the language.
Here's how it works. Employees start by learning the basics through the computer-based Rosetta Stone program. Then they move on to formal classes taught by professors at Austin College.
Dr. Julie Hempel is an associate professor of Spanish. “If you learn certain vocabulary but you don’t learn some of the grammar words, or once you say something to someone and they say a whole bunch of things back. I mean there is a certain basic understanding of conversational skills both listening and conversational skills that they're going to need."
In addition to the work on the computer and in the classroom, members of the Hispanic community, like Lupe’s Tamales owner John Arriazola, will be invited to ride along with the officers themselves to better understand one another.
"I think its going to be a great thing because it shows that the Sherman Police Department is sensitive to the needs of the Hispanic community."
But the final step is a two week emersion trip to Cuerna Vaca, Mexico. A trip Sergeant Steven Dean will make Saturday. “There is a communication problem within law enforcement which is primarily English speaking white males which is typically what we have in this community."
Sergeant Dean says he is excited about the opportunity to learn more phrases than the few he already knows. “Que es lo que sabes decir en espanol? Usted arrestado, Usted teiene el derecho de guardar el silencio."
Chief Watt is just wondering when it will be his turn to head south of the border. “Do you have a trip to Mexico in the future? No they don’t let chiefs go."
Chief Watt says the program is made possible through a grant given by the state to help train officers that are helped paid for by a portion of each citation find handed out across the state.