Responding to the growing Hispanic population and to a likelihood that an increasing number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. will become more visible under President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, a police department in Jackson, Mississippi, is now requiring its officers to take Spanish-language classes four times a year, Fox News Latino reported. Jackson police department Chief Lee Vance said officers will learn the basics. “We’re not looking to make anybody fluent,” he said.
The department’s in-service training program, which includes classes on constitutional law and pursuit policies, will now include mandatory two-hour Spanish classes. For officers who refuse to take the classes, which hasn’t happened yet, disciplinary action could be in order, a Jackson police spokeswoman said. Police departments around the nation have embraced the idea, given Obama’s push to defer deportations for millions of people who came to the country illegally as children with their parents.
Hispanic migrant workers have been drawn to Mississippi in particular over the last few decades because of the state’s growing chicken processing industry, according to the report. Jackson has a population of 200,000 people. Roughly 2 percent of residents are Latino, according to U.S. Census data. The Spanish classes for police officers there were created through a partnership with Bilingual Works, a language learning company, which has provided some funding for the initiative, Enrique Diaz, the company’s president, said. “If there is an emergency and someone is trying to get help – it could be a life or death situation,” Diaz said. “If there is a language barrier, that person could die,” he added.
In 2014, a police department in Forest Park, Oklahoma, made Spanish-language skills a top priority for its officers, according to a report by local station KFOR-TV. In recent years, police departments have launched efforts to recruit officers who speak a second language. The Vera Institute of Justice in New York, which used a federal grant to study the language practices of more than 200 police departments nationwide, found that departments in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City had given raises and promotions to officers who learned a second language on the job, The Associated Press reported.