Does the New Suffolk County Police Hate Crimes Commander Speak Spanish?

When Det. Lt. Stephen Hernandez replaced Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks earlier this month as the head of the Suffolk County Police Department Hate Crimes Unit, the police department stated that Hernandez was bilingual—a statement that Newsday and this website reported.

Now Newsday’s Rick Brand reports that Hernandez’s fluency is under debate:

Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer claimed his new hate-crimes commander is fluent in Spanish, but Det. Lt. Stephen Hernandez told county lawmakers he’s “a little rusty.” He said so at a public safety committee meeting after Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he heard Hernandez used an interpreter at a meeting of Hispanic ministers in Brentwood.

“Growing up, Spanish was spoken in my house,” Hernandez said. “Since my grandparents passed away, it is my second language, so I am a bit rusty.” Hernandez added, “I did use the interpreter that night. It was getting late and we would have been there all night if I tried to get through the whole thing in Spanish.” Hernandez said later that while he’s “not fluent,” he believes he speaks well enough to interview a Spanish-speaking crime victim.

The discrepancy in what constitutes fluency highlights a common problem in Long Island police departments.

As I reported in a story about Spanish-speaking officers in Hempstead, it appears that few departments use a standard testing system to determine fluency. So while officers may be listed as fluent, it’s unclear whether those officers are fully fluent, or whether they are able to read and write in Spanish, as well as speak the language.