Study: Nassau Police Unable to Help Nearly 50% of Spanish-Speaking Callers

Nearly 47% of Spanish speakers who called the Nassau County Police Department earlier this year to test its language accessibility were unable to get help, according to a report released Tuesday by two advocacy groups.

The studyby the Manhattan-based company New York Immigrant Coalition and the Long Island Language Defenders Coalitionwas designed to test the ability and willingness of the Nassau Police Department to provide interpreters or translation services to non-English speakers who request assistance, as required by local and federal laws.

The department has been criticized for nearly a decade over language access for members of the Hispanic community.

Seven bilingual test volunteers made 94 calls from Feb. 1 to April 18 seeking information from the department’s eight precincts and police headquarters in Mineola on issues such as how to get an accident report, where to go next policeman exam and get help with an apartment eviction.

What there is to know

  • Nearly 47% of calls made to Nassau police earlier this year by Spanish-speaking people, seeking to test the department’s services for those not fluent in English, were unable to receive help.
  • As part of the test, many callers said they hung up on the phone, told to call 911, or were never put in touch with someone who spoke their language. 53% of callers received the translation services they requested
  • Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said that over a one-year period beginning in August 2021, the County Language Access Line, a service that connects agents with live translators through a phone app, successfully interacted with more than 2,100 people.

The study found that 23 callers were disconnected or the person who answered hung up; nine have never been in contact with someone who speaks their language; eight calls went unanswered and on four occasions the agent was unable to provide a response. In total, testers were unable to get help with nearly 47% of all calls, including eight made to police headquarters, according to the report.

The remaining 50 calls – or 53.2% – received help, either by being transferred to Language Access Line, a service that connects agents to live translators via a phone app, or to a bilingual agent.

“This is unacceptable,” said Ivan Larios, an organizer with the New York Immigration Coalition, which helped write the report.

“Imagine if this was a caller in a domestic violence case, which happened in real life,” Larios said, “and the victim didn’t get the proper services because ‘she doesn’t speak the language’.

A Fourth Ward officer repeatedly told a caller in February “No habla español” — he didn’t speak Spanish — before hanging up, according to the report. Several other callers were told to call 911 or go to a borough for help, the report said.

“The Nassau Police Department needs to do better,” said Cheryl Keshner, founder and coordinator of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition. “They are not living up to their legal obligation to serve the whole community. It is a discriminatory practice that they are engaging in.”

According to Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, from August 2021 through August 2022, the County Language Access Line successfully interacted with more than 2,100 people.

“I have personally informed members of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition that if there is a problem with any component of the Language Line, I will be contacted immediately so that we can fully investigate and rectify any issues. if necessary,” he said. “To date, no LILAC member has contacted me about the Language Access Line.

In response, Keshner said the Coalition had repeatedly brought the results of its previous tests to the department’s attention “yet we saw no commitment to make the necessary improvements.” If the top brass of the NCPD are not monitoring how language assistance is provided within its ranks, then there is clearly a problem.

The study recommends hiring more agents who speak languages ​​other than English; develop a training program for agents in coordination with certified language experts and hold agents who do not provide language services accountable for their actions.

In 2013, Nassau police, under pressure from local advocacy groups, reached an agreement with the state attorney general’s office to provide better language assistance to residents who do not speak English. Then-county executive Edward Mangano signed a pair of executive orders later that year mandating language access to all county agencies.

The department then extended the language access line to all patrol vehicles. In 2020, as part of the department’s state-mandated policing reforms, then-County Executive Laura Curran released the Nassau Report Language access plan detailing the resources available to the non-English speaking community, including the use of the service’s interpreters, language identification cards distributed by patrol officers, and translation of written materials into other languages.

More than 164,000 Nassau residents speak Spanish at home while more than 75,000 speak English “less than very well,” according to a 2020 census survey.

“When the police do not properly address communication barriers, they place the lives of our [Limited English Proficient] community members, especially people of color, at risk,” the report said.

Denise W. Whigham