Police Battle Language Barrier - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Police Battle Language Barrier

Officer Don Martin with the Tyler Police Department knows the importance of being able to communicate with citizens and suspects out in the field.

"If you're dealing in a crisis situation that you need to communicate immediately and you can't, it could be very dangerous for both parties," says Martin.

He remembers an incident years ago where an East Texas constable was ultimately killed because the officer didn't speak spanish.  Nacogdoches County Constable Darrell Lunsford was on a routine traffic stop in 1991 when he found marijuana in the trunk. The passengers began talking about how to take the officer down in their native spanish language. Ultimately, the two men attacked him and a third stole his gun, fatally shooting the officer.

"If he had known what they were saying then he could have taken some actions before they were able to subdue him," says Martin.

Licensed Texas peace officers are now required to learn what is known as survival spanish;  basic words that alert them if someone is threatening them, and commands they can use in day-to-day activities.

Chief Reese Daniel with the Jacksonville Police Department says there's just one problem.

"It's like anything else.  If you don't use it on a daily basis, in a crisis situation it might not come to you," says Daniel.

Daniels says he could use more bilingual officers, but recruiting them is hard because neighboring cities like Dallas and Houston can pay two or three times as much for their service.

Both police departments say they rely heavily on their bilingual officers to translate for them when needed, but in crisis situations they have to fall back on things like hand gestures to communicate.

Lindsay Wilcox/Reporting: lwilcox@kltv.com


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