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Meet the NOPD's first-ever team of bilingual officers

by Dawne Massey

April 21, 2016

Categories: Community, Videos

Topics: Community Policing, Modernizing Policing

For the first time in the history of the department, the NOPD is building a team of certified bilingual officers. Their mission is simple but incredibly important to our overall community policing strategy: improve the way we communicate with limited English speaking members of our community to build trust and strengthen relationships.

While we’ve always had officers who had bilingual abilities, this is the first time the NOPD has put together a comprehensive plan, that includes a pay incentive, that brings a team of officers together to use their skills on patrol. 

Earlier this year, the Civil Service Department partnered with a local registered interpreter to hold the first certification exam for Spanish-speaking officers. To date, eight officers and one civilian employee have been certified as bilingual and are being called upon every day to communicate in the field with limited English speaking residents and visitors who interact with police.

Joining the bilingual officer team was a no-brainer for Third District Officer Will Torres. He grew up in a household that spoke both English and Spanish so he's been translating the two languages since he could talk.

"It's a skill I've had my entire life. I grew up speaking Spanish and my parents spoke Spanish to me so it would be a disservice to the city and to the department if I didn't use a skill that I naturally have," he said.

An added benefit in the translation process is that it slows down the conversation and can help de-escalate an emotional situation, allowing officers to do their jobs safely and effectively.

"It calms them down when they see that I really care about their situation," Torres said. "They are also relieved there is someone there to help them who can speak their language."

On top of the team of bilingual officers, NOPD has electronic translators, known as Enabling Language Service Anywhere (ELSA) devices, available at each police district. ELSA connects officers who need translation services quickly to a live language interpreter in more than 180 languages and dialects. The devices are a helpful substitute when a human translator like Torres is not available.

"We believe it will result in more willingness to report crimes and participate in police investigations," said NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison.

The department plans to hold additional exams, including Vietnamese, later this year. Once certified, officers are eligible to earn a five percent pay increase for using their language skills on the job.

NOPD officers and employees who are currently certified bilingual include:

  • Lieutenant Sandra Contreras
  • Sergeant Manuel Castellon
  • Officer Valentino Grayman
  • Officer Ramon Negrete
  • Officer Daniel Oquendo-Johnson
  • Officer Will Torres
  • Officer Sebastian Trigo
  • Officer Janssen Valencia
  • Paloma Miller