Clarification (12:14 am October 20, 2010): This story did not include a group working with La Voz Translation Services. Chapel Hill police are also working with the organization.
In an area with a growing Latino population, it’s becoming apparent that some local police officers don’t know their Spanish.
To combat the language barrier, senior Ahna Hendrix is creating La Voz Translation Services, a volunteer-based program working to provide local police departments with face-to-face language translation.
With only a few bilingual officers, translation efforts between police and non-English speakers are poor at best, said Carrboro police Capt. J. G. Booker.
“It’s a pressing issue right now and is only going to continue to be more of an issue,” he said.
The Latino population spiked 936 percent between 1990 and 2000, reaching a total of 2,062. The only translation service available to the departments is the “language line,” a phone number that connects officers to people who speak both Spanish and English.
“Putting someone on the phone in the middle of something scary is not the easiest way for communication to begin,” Hendrix said.
Although the details aren’t completed, Hendrix said police officers would call in volunteers to help translate for Spanish-speakers.
Hendrix, who worked with the Carrboro Police Department during the summer, said she hopes to have the program up and running by the end of the semester.
She said she saw the need for translation services during her time with the police department. She said she used an assignment in her Latino Media Studies class to make her idea a reality.
After presenting the idea to her class, students Alexandra Pappas, Hannah Amend and Ginny Teague joined the effort to build the program’s foundation.
“After talking to Ahna I realized that it was a really big problem,” Amend said.
“It’s really important to get a translation system involved so people know their rights and their legal parameters.”
The group is focusing solely on the Carrboro Police Department for now, but Hendrix said she hopes to eventually extend services to Chapel Hill police as well.
Booker said he sees great potential in the program.
“It could be a tremendous help,” he said. “You never know when that need is going to arise.”
While Hendrix is the currently only Spanish speaker, she said her fellow colleagues are helping research legal issues and public relations for the organization.
To get the word out about the project, Teague set up Facebook and Twitter accounts in La Voz Translation Services’s name.
“I just really hope that I’m able to follow through with it, see it get started and help people in the area,” Teague said.
Both the La Voz volunteers and Booker said without such programs, the language barrier will persist.
“The need to communicate across languages will never disappear,” Hendrix said.
“Our world only becomes more and more diverse, so I believe this service is going to be invaluable.”
Contact the City Editor at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.