Police officers arriving at a murder scene at a Houston apartment complex could not speak Spanish to the residents, so a cameraman from a local TV station translated until bilingual officers arrived hours later, says the Houston Chronicle. It is a situation that plays out across Houston several times a week as officers who speak only English rely on wrecker drivers, bystanders, or victims’ children to act as translators if bilingual officers are not available.
Despite a Houston Police Department program that pays $1.9 million annually in extra pay to 1,046 bilingual-certified officers – nearly 20 percent of the 5,300-officer force – there are frequent situations when officers cannot speak with residents. More than 900 officers are certified as fluent in Spanish. Other certifications include officers who can speak Vietnamese, two dialects of Chinese and Korean. Critics say an insufficient number of bilingual officers can cause trauma to crime victims, burdens the bilingual officers with greater case loads, and endangers officers who cannot immediately communicate with criminal suspects.