When medical or law enforcement officials respond to an emergency, communication is key, but officials’ ability to serve citizens can be threatened by language barriers.
Almost 10 percent of Catawba County residents speak a language other than English in their homes, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Conover Police Department has two Spanish-speaking officers to translate and assist on calls involving Latino citizens.
“They’re very fluent,” said Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer of the department’s bilingual officers. “It’s been a very big help.”
Before Conover Police Department hired the bilingual officers, Brewer said the department had to hire a translator to work with Spanish-speaking victims and suspects.
“We were dealing with them quite a bit, and we wanted to be able to understand them better,” he said.
Not only does having bilingual officers help Conover Police better serve the community, it also helps establish a relationship between community members and law enforcement.
“It’s more of a trust issue,” Brewer said. “It puts them at ease.”
Newton Police Department doesn’t have any Spanish-speaking officers, but that’s a quality Chief Don Brown will look for in future hires.
“That’s certainly a commodity that we look for,” he said. “There is a need for (bilingual officers) in the area.”
To accommodate the growing need for bilingual public servants, Catawba Valley Community College is offering two online Spanish classes tailored to specific professions.
“Especially in the health care and law enforcement fields, people are dealing with the whole population,” said Susan Killian, CVCC’s director of business and technology training.