Nassau police fail to help many Spanish callers: Report

Nassau police fail to help many Spanish callers: Report
A Ford Crown Victoria used by the Nassau County Police Department. As National Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off, a new study finds that Nassau police fall short when it comes to Spanish-speaking calls. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

As National Hispanic Heritage Month begins, a new analysis shows that Nassau police are failing to help many Spanish-speaking callers.

The New York Immigration Coalition and the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition authored the report. Seven bilingual testers made 94 calls asking for information in Spanish between Feb. 1 and April 18.

Of the 94 calls, their findings show that 44 times (or 46.8%) the testers were unsuccessful in getting help. These callers were disconnected, hung up on or not connected to a Spanish speaker.

The other 53% of callers were connected to a multilingual officer or the Language Access Line, a service that links law enforcement personnel with live interpreters.

“Despite numerous rounds of testing over the years to track Nassau County Police Department’s progress, our conclusions reveal similarly disturbing patterns that show providing language access to the public is haphazard at best and ignored at worst,” the report said. “Despite past efforts to encourage the NCPD to take action, a lackluster response consisting of broken promises and radio silence reveals a culture of willful negligence that permeates within the department.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos make up 17.6% of Nassau County’s population. From 2016 to 2020, 28.8% of people age 5 or older reported speaking a language other than English at home.

In January 2013, the Nassau County Police Department and the New York state attorney general agreed to improve language help for Nassau’s non-English speaking population.

Later that year, then-County Executive Edward Mangano signed two executive orders requiring language access at all county agencies. The Language Access Line was subsequently made available to all department patrol cars.

As part of the mandated police reforms, Nassau’s Language Access Plan was published in 2020. It elaborated on using department interpreters, distributing language identification cards by patrol officers and translating written materials.

The report urged the Police Department to include more diverse hiring, competent training and enhanced accountability to achieve language justice. The report said that failure to do so disobeys legal obligations and puts individuals at risk.

Also, the two advocacy coalitions requested that the U.S. Department of Justice look into Nassau’s policing patterns and practices, which they claim are illegal under federal law. They also encouraged the state attorney general to take more measures to ensure the police comply.

“We recognize that language access is just one piece of a much larger problem within the Nassau County Police Department, which results in the disproportionate targeting of community members of color,” the report said. “The NCPD is choosing to reinforce biased policing practices. The NCPD will never establish trust with marginalized communities until they fundamentally change the culture within the department, provide effective leadership, address internal bias, improve community relations, and ensure accountability and transparency.”

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