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Speaking a second language helps Oklahoma City police officers do their job

The goal of the Oklahoma City police bilingual unit will soon have enough bilingual officers to mirror the demographics of the city, supervisor Lt. Paco Balderrama says.
BY LI LIN Modified: October 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm •  Published: October 21, 2012

“If I had not known Spanish, I wouldn't be able to help her,” Music said.

It turned out that the suspect was around the corner. Music and his partner were able to capture the man and take him to jail.

Music said he was giving the woman at the Subway a chance to practice her English before speaking to her in Spanish.

“If I see that they are struggling or just trying to get by, then I will tell them that I speak Spanish,” he said.

Music is one of 30 Spanish-speaking officers in the bilingual unit, police spokesman Capt. Dexter Nelson said. The unit also has four officers who use American Sign Language, two who speak Vietnamese and one who speaks Korean.

“Communication is the key to the development of the city and the law enforcement agency,” said Lt. Paco Balderrama, bilingual unit supervisor.

The goal of the unit is to have enough bilingual officers to mirror the demographics of the city, Balderrama said. For example, if 40 percent of the population speaks Spanish, then the department wants to have a similar percentage of Spanish-speaking officers in the unit.

When officers run into a situation that requires a language no one in the unit speaks, the department uses interpreters from the University of Oklahoma or AT&T translators, he said.

Understanding cultural differences also is crucial to effective communication, he said.

All Oklahoma City police officers are required to complete diversity training, which stresses the importance of treating everyone with respect, regardless of background and culture, Balderrama said.