After March 12, when a federal marshal shot a Hispanic man whom he mistakenly believed to be a wanted criminal, there has been a heightened awareness for the need to break down language barriers, especially those between Spanish- and English- speaking individuals.
But Chapel Hill police maintain that sensitivity training is not something new for the department and that cultural sensitivity has always been considered.
Since 1995, Chapel Hill police officers have been encouraged to attend cultural diversity classes year-round at Wake Technical and Durham Technical community colleges. The classes aim to increase officers' knowledge and understanding of Spanish language and culture. Officers also attend cultural training Spanish classes periodically throughout the year -- one of which is taught by a Chapel Hill officer -- at the N.C. Justice Academy.
Officer Jason McIntyre of the Chapel Hill Training Division said the police department does not require each of its officers to be bilingual but assists in teaching officers some foreign languages, especially Spanish.
McIntyre also said the police department has four Puerto Rican officers who came to the department from the Army and speak Spanish. "The four bilingual officers teach other officers street-level Spanish, such as how to ask for a driver's license or identification," he said.
McIntyre also said police are learning more common words, with the help of the bilingual officers in the department, that might help them understand what a Spanish-speaking person is trying to say.
"When running into cases with Spanish-speaking individuals, most of the time someone in the individual's family speaks English," he said.
If there is no one to translate for a Spanish-speaking individual, McIntyre said the department will call in an interpreter or call on one of the bilingual officers for assistance.
"For long, drawn-out discussions, the police department will get an interpreter from the University, but most of the time the victim has a relative who speaks English and can help translate," he said.