Police Learn Spanish as Latino Population Grows - KATV - Breaking News, Weather and Razorback Sports

Police Learn Spanish as Latino Population Grows

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KATV's Katherina Yancy with Leonor Garcia KATV's Katherina Yancy with Leonor Garcia

(KATV) The Hispanic population was almost non-existent only two decades ago but the quick growth in Spanish-speaking immigrants has placed new concerns for first responders because of a language and culture barrier.

Arkansas has a small Hispanic/Latino population, at just 6.4, but in the past decade the state has remained in the top five for the largest percentage of growth.

Sgt. Brian Dedrick with the North Little Rock Police Department says, "We have a lot more Spanish speaking individuals in our community. So we have had to do some things to adapt to it. Those things include, we offer officers the opportunity to take first responder Spanish classes, they have sheets with words translated in Spanish, they can take a laptop home with Rosetta Stone on it and they can register for College Spanish classes."

Members of the North Little Rock Police Department are taking conversational Spanish to bridge the language barrier gap. The goal isn't to become bilingual but to learn words to be able to understand one another until an interpreter or bilingual first responder arrives. "It's challenging because we want to be able to understand and find out what the needs are," Sgt. Dedrick adds.

After all the talk about the English only movement, Sgt. Dedrick says the fact remains that first responder services need to be provided to all in need.

In today's society, there is a mixture of Hispanic culture and the traditions usually migrate with each group, everyone here with the hope of a brighter future.

Maura Lozano-Yancy says, "They come like any other migrant population has come in the years before; it is for better opportunities, mostly because of their children."

Lozano-Yancy started the Second Language Institute in 2010. She says, "We have trained officers for the city of Maumelle, Little Rock, North Little Rock, several of the court systems have come through the classes specialized in law enforcement and first responders."

According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics in the state are young, more than 40% are under 18 years old, and they speak English. Lozano-Yancy says it's the adults who move to the U.S. who have trouble learning a new language.

Leonor Garcia is the mother of Patricia Guardado, the UALR student who was murdered one year ago. Garcia says she struggles to speak with officers, and it's agonizing to wait for an interpreter to give her an update on Patricia's murder case that has grown cold, there have been no arrests.

Garcia says she sometimes has her kids translate and she appreciates that officers are getting involved in the community and learning key words in Spanish.

Some businesses offer a bonus for bilingual employees, but most police department's pay based on test scores and the education level completed.