Since the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Suffolk County and the Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning the treatment of immigrants by the police, advocates have been meeting with the police over the implementation of changes to make sure that that everyone who lives in the county gets good police protection. The meetings spring from the revelations after the murder of Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in 2008 that the police routinely ignored hate crime complaints from immigrants.
The first of the meetings between advocates and the police took place in February of this year. Although the agreement with the DOJ requires meetings quarterly, five months went by without another meeting. This week the second police meeting was held. I was there representing CARECEN and Maryann Slutsky was there for Long Island Wins.
There have been some important improvements at the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) since the start of the year. One of the most encouraging is that nearly one-in-five of the new class of police cadets speaks Spanish. The lack of Spanish-speaking officers has been identified as one of the reasons crime reports from immigrants were so often ignored in the past. Twenty percent of recruits are Latino, a significant improvement in a force that was nearly all white only a few years ago.
The police are also making some headway in using interpreter services to communicate with non-English-speaking crime victims. The police have contracted with Language Line, an over-the-phone translation service, to allow officers to call on a cell phone to get a live interpreter when they find non-English-speaking witnesses at a crime scene. They have also installed a number of special phones in squad cars that allow the officers to share the line with the victim for real time translations.
In spite of a new mandate that officers use translation services with non-English speakers, advocates said that there are still instances of officers using the children of victims to translate. This is considered inappropriate in all but emergency situations. There was also concern that the police have not yet established metrics to determine if officers are using Language Line when they should.
The police are also acquiring translation equipment to allow for simultaneous interpretation at police/community meetings. This should end the practice of segregating non-English speakers into a special “translation zone.”
Advocates continue to be concerned about the failure of the police to provide speedy access to hate crime data and the mapping of hate crimes. While there have been a number of improvements in the first eight months of 2014, elements of monitoring are still not in place to ensure that we never go back to the bad old days.