Saturday, April 24, 2004

NYC project gives police foreign language backup via cell phone

"On March 18, phones with access to Language Line Services, a translation company, were distributed to patrol officers in the 115th Precinct, which covers Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Corona - perhaps the most linguistically and culturally diverse area in the city, with foreign languages spoken in 83 percent of the precinct's homes."

"'We interviewed victims who had contact with the police, and the No. 1 issue is always language,' said Yolanda B. Jimenez, the commissioner of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, which secured a $300,000 grant from the federal government for the project. 'This will allow victims to tell police officers what happened at 2 a.m., in Urdu.'"

"In potential domestic violence cases, the officers begin by saying they are there to help, officers said. They then explain that under city law they cannot inquire about the immigration status of a crime victim or witness."

"Prosecutors are enthusiastic about the language line, too, because even when victims are willing to call the police, the absence of a translator can play havoc with evidence. Sometimes even after making a complaint, immigrants can be persuaded (or intimidated) to recant, said Scott E. Kessler, the domestic violence bureau chief in the Queens district attorney's office. But, he said, with the language line, transcripts of their initial statements can be used as corroborating affidavits even if they have backed down."

"In its first month, the language line was used three dozen times for nine languages: Bengali, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Sinhalese, Farsi, Spanish and Hindi."

The New York Times

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