Thursday, November 20, 2008

Handling Foreign Languages

A reader raised an interesting issue with me this week. When a law enforcement agency such as the McHenry County Sheriff's Department or the Woodstock Police Department receives a call for help and cannot understand the caller (because the dispatcher/telecommunicator is mono-lingual (English only)), what happens next?

Is the caller transferred over to an automated system - Press 1 for Spanish; press 2 for Polish; press 3 for Russian? Of course, those prompts had better be in the language spoken if the number is pressed; right?

Or does the caller sit on Hold, while the dispatcher tries to figure something out or radios a deputy to phone in and talk to the caller?

At a past Coffee with the Chief in Woodstock, one of the telecommunicators explained that the WPD subscribes to an interpreter service. I guess you have to be able to guess at least the right continent and to reach an operator at the subscription service who can then quickly locate a person who can communicate with the caller.

Does the sheriff's department also have this service?

What percent of law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics speak the most prevalent languages in McHenry County? Who even knows what they are, besides English, Spanish, Russian and Polish?

The cops and paramedics should be required to learn Spanish. The percentage of Spanish-speaking residents in McHenry County could be as high as 30%. Even firefighters need to be bilingual. If a mother is screaming that her child is still in the burning house, firefighters needs to be able to understand that; likewise, if she is screaming that no one else is in the house, they need to know that, too!

It seems to me there were drownings off Kishwaukee Valley Road several years ago, and there was quite a delay in finding a deputy who could understand the distraught caller. The public wants to know just how quickly aid is dispatched, when every minute counts, not just how long the rescuers were at the scene.

Does the McHenry County Sheriff's Department now have the radio equipment to zero in on a cell phone's location? Remember the motorcyclist who crashed in the middle of the night and didn't know where he was? He couldn't be found by tracking his cell phone. Many cell phones now can be found using GPS-type equipment. If you have a cell phone (is there anyone who doesn't?), dig out your manual or call your service provider and figure out how to turn on the GPS function.

Dispatchers' communication techniques should be constantly reviewed by properly-trained supervisors, and immediate correction and additional training should be provided when service is sub-standard. I remember phoning in a complaint about a reckless motorcyclist who had nearly hit me head-on one night between Woodstock and Huntley.

I was driving from Huntley to Woodstock, and the guy was coming at me at about 90MPH in my lane, passing southbound cars. At first, I thought it was a car with one headlight out and farther away. Then I realized it was a motorcycle! I headed for the shoulder, and fortunately so did the car he was passing.

I called the sheriff's department to register my complaint and to ask if a deputy could get him stopped. I offered to turn around and drive back to Huntley, if a deputy could stop him. The dispatcher wanted to know what color the motorcycle was and if I saw the license plate. Talk about stupid questions! It was dark and he was heading toward me! Of course I didn't see his license plate number! I insisted the dispatcher take my name and number.

A Huntley officer heard the call and stopped the motorcyclist, who admitted what he was doing. The dispatcher called me and I drove to Huntley. About a month later the motorcyclist pled guilty and was fined about $125 plus court costs. I didn't even have to testify, although I was there in court that day and ready to do so.

Have you ever had a less-than-satisfactory experience with a dispatcher at a police department?

1 comment:

Dave Labuz said...

OK - here's a real touchy subject - let's dig in.

Granted, in EVERY instance, we should want to do the very best we can to be able to help and rescue ANYONE for any reason whatsoever. Our respect for every individual life (with the exception of the abortionist's scrap bucket) makes us one of the best and greatest nations on earth. In regards to this factor, we can all be proud of our nation.

However, consider too, that if you are a LEGAL immigrant, you are also reasonably proficient in conversational and written English. It is required of you in order to obtain citizenship.

In my associations with coworkers over the years, I have worked side by side with all types of people, who have also disclosed to me their legal status. In EVERY case, whether they be Hispanic, Polish, Ukranian, or Russian, those who were legal citizens spoke and could read basic English.

This why I ABSOLUTELY disapprove of electon materials and ballots that the courts require be printed in alternative languages. Such accommodation SHOULD NOT be made - illegal aliens SHOULD NOT be able to vote.

However, there are many here legally who are not citizens, either on vacation or through valid visas, and thus should not be subject to that requirement. That's logical.

We are talking here about a VAST amount of people that are not legal. While it is desireable to help anyone regardless of status, and while their pleas for help can help support law enforcement and rescue initiatives for all others regardless of their status, where do we draw the line?

I think that bilingualism is important to a certain extent throughout government service - it allows some ease of operation for all departments concerned. But when is enough, enough?

I think that absolute requirements regarding bilingualism in government services are too onerous and simply perpetuate a permanent underclass of citizens, as well as financially penalize legal citizens at some point - both professionally and economically.

Under "modern" expectations, legal citizens themselves, partiularly if they desire employment in public service of any kind (and as well as in the private sector) are starting to become an underclass by not being bilingual. And THAT's not fair, either.