New York City police officer Jessica Trimoglie found herself with a weeping Hispanic woman who spoke no English. She pulled out a small black cellphone and pressed a button. Within seconds, a translator in California could be heard through the phone’s speaker, interpreting the woman’s complaint, which turned out to be about sexual harassment, reports the New York Times. Trimoglie told the woman how to get an order of protection, and directed her to a place where Spanish speakers would help. The cellphone – which links her to 24-hour translation service in 150 languages – is part of a new effort aimed at a major criminal justice problem: domestic violence among immigrants. The violence often goes unreported or unresolved because victims cannot communicate with the police or fear reprisals by their own relatives; many come from cultures where domestic abuse is tolerated.
Last month, phones with access to Language Line Services were distributed to officers in one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse areas in the city, with foreign languages spoken in 83 percent of the precinct’s homes. “We interviewed victims who had contact with the police, and the No. 1 issue is always language,” said Yolanda B. Jimenez, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, which secured a $300,000 federal grant for the project. “This will allow victims to tell police officers what happened at 2 a.m., in Urdu.” In its first month, the language line was used three dozen times for nine languages: Bengali, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Sinhalese, Farsi, Spanish, and Hindi.