Central Islip, New York (September 15, 2011)—The United States Department of Justice released a letter on September 14 to County Executive Steve Levy addressing specific policies and practices of the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) that lead to hate crimes and violence against Latinos, and their recommendations for immediately correcting them. This long-awaited reaction by the Department of Justice highlights in 28 pages the troubling disconnect between law enforcement in Suffolk County and the community it is charged with protecting. The Department of Justice first initiated its investigation of Suffolk County following the tragic hate killing of an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, a Patchogue resident, in 2008.
Among their recommendations, the Department of Justice describes in detail the language access services that are to be provided by the SCPD as required by federal law—language access is federally mandated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As the recipients of federal financial assistance, Title VI requires the SCPD to ensure that it has language assistance services in place and that it provides them at no cost to limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. The report makes clear that adequate language services include translating complaint forms and other vital information into Spanish and other non-English languages, and that competent bilingual officers and other interpreter services must be provided to assist LEP complainants in filling out necessary forms. Additionally, when police contact a LEP individual, they must use appropriate language assistance services including competent bilingual staff who speak the non-English language or telephone interpreter services like language line. These services are critical in restoring public confidence in the police force and promoting public safety.
Community organizations have been working with the police for years to address access-related issues faced by the Latino community and regard this letter as an important step forward in addressing the divide between the community and the police department. One of these groups, the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition (LILAC), has been meeting regularly with the police to report gaps in services, the need for additional training of police personnel on internal police polices and cultural sensitivity, and ways to engage proactively with the community. Police officials have graciously taken the time to meet with coalition members, but little has been done in the way of change in policy or procedure.
This letter is the precursor to the final findings by the Department of Justice. If there is to be any honest headway on meaningful access for all community members, the Department of Justice must hear from the community. LILAC has been documenting the unconstitutional practices of the Suffolk County Police Department, including racial profiling and lack of adequate language access services to the community. If you or someone you know has not been provided with proper police assistance, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “SCPD” or call our hotline at 516-428-0464. These are the stories the Department of Justice must hear when deciding what will come of the investigation of Suffolk County.
No one should be denied services by the police department, or be given inferior treatment, because they do not read, speak or write English fluently. Children should never be used in place of professional interpreters, especially when they are dealing with delicate matters, such as domestic violence. Remember, you have the right to be fully understood. Insist on an interpreter.