TARRANT, Ala. (WIAT) — A local police department is searching for Spanish-speaking officers to better protect a growing part of their community. As we’ve reported, the Jefferson County DA announced the arrest of a man suspected of targeting over 30 Hispanic people in a series of armed robberies.
There’s overwhelming support from the Hispanic community in Tarrant for the police department to bring on an officer and dispatcher that speak Spanish. Police say quite a few people in the area speak little to no English so police have to get creative when trying to communicate by using phone translation apps.
“They’re making a point to engage them when they see them and less of a confrontational, traffic stop but more of a ‘hey, how’s it going? Anything we can do for you?’, ‘hey, we noticed y’all hang out here, some people hang out here and we just want to make sure nobody comes by and victimizes you. Here’s our card, give us a call and let us know what we can do to be of assistance’,” says Tarrant Police Chief Wendell Major.
“Entonces pues estamos para ayudarlos,” says Marco Lopez, a potential Tarrant Spanish-speaking police officer. “Police, they just want to help,” he translates.
Each person we talked to about bringing on Spanish-speaking staff to the Tarrant Police Department thought it was a great idea that couldn’t happen fast enough.
“I believe it’s important for all police to have a bilingual or Spanish speaking police officer,” says Matthias Roberts, manager of La Hacienda. “There’s some Hispanics here that still don’t know how to speak English and we still have some workers that don’t know how to speak English all the way so I mean, it’s help out if they ever got pulled over or they ever needed to call 911, they’d be able to communicate back and forth.”
Tarrant police have been recruiting locally for the new positions. Lopez says he was first introduced to Tarrant police when he and his uncle were pulled over and he had to translate between his uncle and the officer.
“I noticed that there’s not too much police that speak Spanish so you know, I like helping people whenever they need some,” says Lopez. “If I can help people, whenever they pull them over or they’ve got a situation they need help translating, I’ll be glad to help.”
The police department also wants to hire a dispatcher who would be able to take calls in Spanish and best understand people calling in emergencies.
“You feel very uncomfortable talking in another language that you’re not fluent in and it probably, or maybe is like misunderstandings when they call and stuff,” says Jovana Chavez, prospective Spanish-speaking dispatcher for Tarrant Police.
Tarrant police say their last Spanish speaking officer went to another department a few years ago and it’s been looking for another since. Major says his department is big on community policing.
“We wanted the police force to reflect the community so we have made it a point of ours to inspire our officers to make contact with residents in the community and draw them into getting involved with the police to hopefully get them hired and qualified,” says Major.
Tarrant police say the potential officer and dispatcher have received one of their two needed certifications before then can go through the academy. Chief Major says while it might be a while before the officers get started, they’re working as quickly as they can.