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Statement Before the Council of the District of Columbia, Committee on the Judiciary Public Forum on Public Safety in the Latino Community

Wednesday, June 30, 1999
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey
Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, DC

At the public forum on criminal justice that you convened last week, I talked a bit about the philosophy and framework for community policing in the District of Columbia. One of the points I made is that the success of community policing depends, in large measure, on the trust and confidence that are created between the police and the community. This is true in every neighborhood, and among residents of all racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

Still, I recognize—as you do—that there are special challenges we face in providing police services and implementing community policing in our Latino communities. One of the primary challenges involves language barriers—which is a matter I will address a little later in my comments. But some of the challenges we face are even more fundamental and deeply rooted.

For some people in the Latino community—in particular, for many newly arrived immigrants—their feelings toward the police have been shaped by their experiences in other nations, operating under completely different systems of justice. As you might imagine, many of these individuals arrive in our nation with almost no faith in the police. This, in turn, creates tremendous challenges for police departments in every city.

Even among those Latino citizens who have been in the United States for generations, attitudes toward the police have been shaped by their own experiences and those of their friends and family members. To the extent that these experiences have not always been positive—and in many cases, historically, they were not positive—their level of trust in the police has been eroded as well. It is against this backdrop that the Metropolitan Police Department is working to implement community policing and provide quality police services in our Latino communities.

I recognize that achieving this goal will require more than quick-fixes and band-aid approaches. It will take an ongoing dialogue between police officers and community leaders and members ... and a lot of hard work by all parties involved. This dialogue must begin at the top of our organization.

As Chief, I have insisted that the Latino community be represented on my Citizens’ Advisory Council. Mr. Mario Acosta-Velez, Executive Director of the Latino Civil Rights Center, is one of the most active members of my CAC. Recently, Mr. Luis Cardona, of the DC Community Prevention Partnership, also joined my Advisory Council ... bringing even broader experiences and perspectives to this important body. This high-level partnership between the Metropolitan Police Department and the leadership of the Latino community is critical. It ensures that my command staff and I are kept informed of the concerns of this unique and diverse constituency.

But the real heart and soul of community policing are found not in the Chief’s office or even at the district station ... but rather out on the streets, in the community. It is the day-to-day contact between police officers and residents that is critical to building the confidence and trust I mentioned earlier. For many people in the Latino community, this process starts with our being able to communicate in the language they speak. We have done a good job, I think, in how we handle emergency calls for service in Spanish.

We currently employ about half a dozen bilingual—English and Spanish—call-takers in our Communications Center. They represent our first option for Spanish-speaking callers to 9-1-1 or to our non- emergency number ... 727-1010. If none of these operators is available, we immediately connect the caller with the AT&T Language Line, which provides translators in more than 100 different languages and dialects. Those translators stay on the line and ensure that all pertinent information is received from the caller.

A bigger challenge, for us, is having personnel out in the field who are bilingual—and can communicate easily and effectively with our Spanish-speaking customers. Currently, the Department does not maintain reliable information on the number of officers who speak Spanish—or any other language—fluently.

We have always relied on self-reporting during the application process to identify those employees with bilingual or multi-lingual skills. Recently, however, I directed our Human Services Division to establish a language services program. The goal is to create and maintain an active database of bilingual and multi-lingual employees—both sworn and civilian. A general order establishing and governing this program is being drafted. Under the order, Human Services would identify positions within the Department that are "public contact positions," which would entitle the employees to receive language services pay. We plan to adopt the language certification program that is presently being used by the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.

Establishing this language services program will allow us to be more proactive and strategic in how we assign our officers ... and more responsive in situations that require special language skills.

In addition, our Institute of Police Science has begun offering basic conversational Spanish over the computer-based, distance training network it operates. That way, officers who have Spanish-speaking residents on their PSA can quickly and easily learn some key words and phrases to assist them in communicating with these residents.

Beyond establishing the data bank of language skills and providing some basic training, I am also committed to increasing the number of Latino officers in the Department ... so that their numbers more closely match the Latino population of the city. Currently, about 5 percent of the approximately 3,520 sworn members on our Department are identified as Latino or Hispanic. While that percentage is lower than what I would like it to be ... I would like to point out that, according to the DC Office of Personnel, Latino representation in the MPDC is greater than that of the other 44 agencies the Office monitors under the Bilingual Personnel Act of 1994.

Still, we are working to increase the number of Latino officers through more aggressive and more strategic recruiting. Approximately 10 percent of our recruiting budget is being devoted strictly to increasing the number of Latino applicants for police officer positions. We produce our recruitment literature in Spanish —as well as in various Asian languages. And we will soon be providing recruitment information in Spanish on our website,

We are also working to establish strong relationships with local civic and cultural organizations for the purposes of increased recruitment. As a start, we have established a presence in two Hispanic Community Centers—at 18th Street and Columbia Road, NW and at 3145 Mount Pleasant St., NW. We look forward to working with other organizations in support of our recruitment efforts.

We are also working to identify Latino and other members who demonstrate the potential to be successful managers—the goal being to increase the number of Latinos in the sworn managerial ranks. Of the 171 Latino members I mentioned earlier, 131 are officers or master patrol officers, and 23 are detectives. The remaining 17 members include 11 sergeants, 4 lieutenants, 1 captain and 1 commander. So there is a lot of work to be done ... both in recruiting more Latino officers for entry-level positions and in grooming those with the potential to be successful managers.

In closing, I want to address one last issue that was raised in the written questions that were submitted in advance of today’s hearing. The issue deals with where our Spanish-speaking officers are assigned. As you will note in my response, more than one-third of the officers identified as Latino or Hispanic are assigned to the Third and Fourth Districts—the two districts with the highest concentrations of Latino residents.

As I said earlier, I wholeheartedly support having an officer corps that reflects the demographics of our city. And where practical, I support assigning officers with particular backgrounds or skills to those communities where those skills can be best utilized. What I do not support is the notion that only Latino officers can, or should, police Latino neighborhoods ... any more than I support the notion that only black officers should police black neighborhoods, or only white officers, white neighborhoods.

Every member of the Metropolitan Police Department must be adequately trained, equipped and sensitized to serve any member of the community—regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, age, gender, or sexual orientation.

I am committed to providing our officers with the training ... the coaching and mentoring ... and, where necessary, the discipline they need to ensure that all of our residents are treated fairly, equally and professionally.

Thank you very much.