Sherman Police learning Spanish

By: Daniel Gotera Email
By: Daniel Gotera Email

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.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Thumbelina Location: Ardmore on Mar 4, 2008 at 02:41 PM
    The term "hispanic" is another misnomer. Hispanic means "of Spain". Mexicans are not from Spain. They are Mexicans.
  • by Another Pam Location: Kingston on Mar 3, 2008 at 02:14 PM
    No - Spanish is spoke in Spain. Mexicans speak a slang language. Grow up Michelle, name calling is a bit immature. What happens to the 5th graders who call names? Michelle is very unpopular with the kids and their parents!
  • by Karyn Location: Kingston on Mar 3, 2008 at 12:34 PM
    I took "natedog" 's advise and googled "Aztlan " - this is what I found http://www.illegalaliens.us/aztlan.htm - you Texans might want to take notice. As far as the Police learning Spanish. I am against it, too - except they need to know it for their own proctection. As "another Pam" pointed out, we don't all know what they are saying. I wouldn't want the last words they hear is "Kill him." in a language the officer didn't understand. Repulican in Ardmore - do you think they are 'playing' dumb? *S*
  • by michelle Location: kingston on Mar 3, 2008 at 12:24 PM
    Another Pam in Kingston- What an idiot. Michelle Garcia doesn't even live in Kingston. And keep speaking Mexican? The language is called Spanish.
  • by kelly on Mar 3, 2008 at 11:37 AM
    why not just hire mexicans to be cops then yall would save lots of money..they already know the language,,,and they work for a lower wage...they couldn`t be much less qualified than what yall already have..
  • by Thumblelina Location: Ardmore on Mar 3, 2008 at 08:50 AM
    Mork the Dork, I am bilingual, I do know what they say, even thought I am an Anglo. Maybe one day, you'll have an intellectual comment, doubtful though from reading your stupid remarks.
  • by Lester Location: Grayson on Mar 3, 2008 at 08:15 AM
    If you want to call it racist then go ahead, but I'am an American, my ancestors came from a part of Europe that did not speak English. They learned English and stayed here and became proud Americans. These illegal immigrants have no intention of staying or becoming Americans or contribiting to your community. Instead of asking America for a hand out they should be asking their on government, that they are still loyal to, for help. But we know what would happen if they asked that. It's a shame anymore that an American is either racist or predudice for standing up for their rights and laws. Try going to Mexico as an illegal and see what happens. Ha try to go legally for that matter and see the restrictions put on you. I don't want to see harm come to anyone but I do think we have the right as Americans to demand that certain criteria be met. Hey maybe instead of arresting a few just make them police and save money.
  • by Debbie Location: Ardmore on Mar 3, 2008 at 04:03 AM
    what a shame!!!! I think if you live in AMERICA you should talk the language. Let the mexican carry around a translator. The next step will be, they will be making us AMERICANS' talk that BS!!!!! I don't think so!!!!!!
  • by natedog Location: in yer internets on Mar 2, 2008 at 08:12 PM
    someone google "Aztlan" already
  • by Republican in Ardmore Location: Ardmore on Mar 1, 2008 at 10:09 PM
    Anyone here in Texhoma with some common sense knows that these people know how to speak English very well or at least understand it. They "play dumb" when they want to con you out of something or when they get into trouble with the law. They don't respect the history of this country or recognize it and never will. The Mexican needs to be Americanized and strip of his culture to fit mainstream American and that begins with their children in American schools and if they don't like it, they can leave!
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