Longmont (Colorado): Bilingual employees part of city's diversity plan

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun May 20 16:17:22 UTC 2007

Armed with words
Bilingual employees part of citys diversity plan

By Trevor Hughes The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT Mike Violette looks and sounds a little off his game: The veteran
Longmont Police officer is trying to conduct a practice traffic stop
entirely in Spanish, and he's struggling. Violette has made hundreds of of
traffic stops in his years with the department, but he's never had to do it
in another language, and the suspect, a fellow officer, is making things
difficult. He's slurring his Spanish, which is not particularly good to
begin with, and stumbling around. But as Violette grows more confident
reasserting the control he displays in English instructor and Detective
Jesse Buchholtz nods approvingly. The suspect ends up in the backseat of
Violette's patrol car, a chair in the lobby of the Olympus Lodge motel in
Estes Park.

Violette is taking part in the Longmont Police Departments 10-day Spanish
immersion class, which Buchholtz helps run. Later in the day, Violette and
eight other officers, jail guards and dispatchers practice stopping a car
full of Spanish-speakers at gunpoint. The technique is called a felony
stop, and the two arresting officers must get the vehicles four occupants
out and frisked without losing control of the situation. Sgt. Alan
Baldivia, head of the departments anti-gang unit, is pointing his hands
like a gun, yelling instructions to the SUV's chofer, or driver.

In Spanish, he orders the man to drop the keys out an open window, then
get out slowly despacio, despacio walk backward, then kneel down and cruce
los pies, or cross his feet so he can't jump up quickly. Despite his
surname, Baldivia said he never learned Spanish growing up.  People often
wonder why the short dark guy can't talk to them in Spanish and why he has
to send them to talk to a tall blond guy, for translation, he said.
Baldivia said its a point of personal pride that he can now talk to
Spanish-speakers in their own language.

They're in our country, and they're asking for our help, Baldivia said. Its
a great service to be able to provide to the community. Over the past 12
years, 48 officers, four 911 dispatchers and three records clerks have
attended immersion classes, which cost about $2,000 per person. Those
graduates put the police department squarely in the front of the rest of
the city when it comes to offering service in both English and Spanish.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of families in Longmont
who are linguistically isolated and speak only Spanish at home is growing
about 100 times faster than the citys overall population. From 261
households in 1990, the number grew to an estimated 2,407 in 2005,
according to the Bureau. A household could have one person or be an
extended family. Officially, only 63 city employees are certified as
Spanish speakers.  About a third of them work for the police and fire

Several city officials said its critical that public safety workers be
able to communicate with Spanish-speakers during emergencies. The Longmont
Police Department has repeatedly said that immigration status or ability
to speak English has no bearing on its mission to serve people who need
help. We have a number of monolingual people in the community, and we want
to be able to provide the kind of services monolingual victims deserve,
and we also need to be able to converse with monolingual suspects, said
Police Chief Mike Butler.

The police department gives an edge to prospective hires if they can speak
Spanish, and its trying to recruit more Hispanic officers. The citys 911
emergency dispatch center is also trying to ensure it has enough Spanish
speakers. When you're upset and in danger, you tend to speak the language
that you use most regularly, Bill Scott, director of the call center, said
in 2005.  The importance of being able to be bilingual has increased. It
has a pretty significant importance to us. At the 911 center, dispatchers
are assigned shifts based on seniority, and no consideration is given to
ensuring a Spanish-speaker is on duty at all times.

The same holds true for the police department, although Butler said it now
has enough Spanish-speaking officers to ensure people who need help can
get it in the language they feel most comfortable with, at any time of
day. The police department has long focused on having bilingual workers,
and in 2005, the city created a special bilingual compensation program to
give a small monthly stipend to any city workers who use their language
skills on the job. The 63 workers who have been certified through the
program work in many different departments, but emphasis in participation
is on those workers who directly serve the public.

That means customer service workers in the utility departments, for
instance, are more likely to qualify for the extra pay than someone who
works in an office crunching numbers. Guadalupe de Flores is a customer
service representative in the citys utility billing department. A former
bank worker, she said people are often relieved to find someone who speaks
Spanish when they come to city hall to pay a bill. I love being able to
help people in their own language, she said.

Friday afternoon, de Flores helped Marcela Curiel and Jesus Quiros pay
their electric bill. Theres a lot of us who only speak Spanish, and its
important were understood, Quiros said in Spanish.

If they didn't have bilingual staff, we wouldn't be fully understood. There
would be misunderstandings and a lot more billing errors, Curiel said. The
city tries to have at least one Spanish-speaking clerk on duty at the
billing department at all times. De Flores also helped monolingual
Spanish-speaker Petra Gutierrez, 48, of Longmont, who came to city hall
Friday to ask about getting a trash receptacle for her husbands new
landscaping business. Its very important for those who don't speak English.
But, it'd be better if we were all bilingual, Gutierrez said. If the city
had no Spanish-speaking employees, Gutierrez said shed get tired of
gesturing all the time and would probably make more of an effort to study

The city also provides a number of documents and services in Spanish, from
City Council agendas to the monthly City Line newsletter, according to
city spokesman Rigo Leal, but theres no formal policy for deciding what
information will be translated and what will be provided solely in
English. The citys Web site also is published in Spanish. While the city
has no formal translation policy, local government is guided by a 1992
diversity program approved by the Longmont City Council. The program says
all residents should be treated with respect and dignity and have access
to city services and programs, and it calls for employees to offer
culturally sensitive services. It also calls for putting bilingual workers
into positions where they can best serve a diverse citizenry.

Last year, the city paid its certified bilingual workers an extra $49,405
and spent an additional $14,746 on outside translation services and to
make signs in other languages or Braille. Resident Mike Hladik is a
frequent critic of anything he sees as accommodating illegal immigrants,
especially when it comes to law enforcement and language. He said he
thinks its appropriate for city staff who already speak Spanish to help
Spanish-speakers, but he opposes offering training classes to workers. If
we offer them Spanish-speaking people to help them, then why on Earth
can't I go to a fast-food joint and get someone who speaks English for me?
Hladik said. You can call me a racist like so many others who throw that
term out to those who want to protect America, but it would be a false
statement. If we are trying to assimilate (them) into America, then why
would we constantly bend over backwards to help them not learn to speak

The question of providing services in both English and Spanish is a touchy
one for some city residents. The Daily Times-Call and the city recently
received several e-mails and calls from residents upset that the citys
emergency warning system broadcasts messages in both languages. Leal said
city governments job is to serve all residents, not just those who speak
English. Regardless of what language people speak, were here to serve the
community, he said. We happen to have a lot of people in our community who
speak Spanish. Its our responsibility and obligation to make sure those
people are informed.



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