BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Buffalo Police are working with the immigrant and refugee community to help people who don’t speak English during emergency situations.
“We were having a hard time understanding what was going on, they were having a hard time reporting crimes,” said Captain Steven Nichols.
Captain Nichols told News 4 they have been working with community leaders to come up with a language access plan for two years.
A few months ago officers received new training. \
“Time is of the essence,” said Captain Nichols. “When they call 911, it’s very important we find out what the situation is, what the problem is, immediately.”
If a victim calls 911, they are now connected to a language access line which identifies what language is being used and passes that along to dispatchers.
Once officers arrive on a scene, they show the victim a card listing more than 40 languages so they can select their first language. An officer then calls for a translator.
“The language access goes even deeper than just being able to communicate,” said Captain Nichols. “It does show that we are willing and want to work with the community, which does help strengthen the trust they have in us.”
Jessica Lazarin, director of the city’s office of New Americans, said many of the immigrants and refugees have reason to question police.
“Some newcomers to the U.S. have experienced persecution at hands of law enforcement so we do have a greater amount of work with those groups,” she said.
Lazarin told News 4 this new policy helps fix consistency problems because all officers now have the same training and resources.
Community members have also undergone training.
“We’ve had workshops that involved calling 911, how that’s done, how you ask for an interpreter,” said Lazarin. “That’s gone positively where we have had a greater number of individuals feel comfortable.”
Members of Buffalo’s Burmese community tell us the program is just a start to breaking down the language barrier.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Zaw Win, who helped organize meetings with the city and Buffalo Police.
He told News 4 they pushed for change after a string of burglaries in his community, where victims couldn’t speak English well enough to give police all of the information they needed to pursue the case.
This language access plan has been in place since February.
Win said in the last two months there have been seven burglaries within his neighborhood.
“Not completely a move forward because we’ve seen the same problem,” he said.
He also told us they are still experiencing long response times and can’t always get in touch with a translator. Win recognizes it will take time before this program begins to impact the community. He hopes there will be more meetings between Buffalo Police, legal experts and community members.
In the meantime, the program is being hailed by the White House as a best practice. It was just included in the White House Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.