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WI: Program Helps Officers Break Language Barrier

Friday, January 02, 2009

Posted: 9:46 PM Jan 2, 2009
Last Updated: 11:23 PM Jan 2, 2009

Questioning witnesses, catching suspects and helping victims are all part of the day-to-day job for police officers. But when they run into a language barrier, things can get complicated.

Sgt. Kirk Flatten says La Crosse is getting more diverse, so police officers need to work with foreign languages more often. The department just launched a new program to help.

He says the program gives officers the chance to "talk to victims, suspects, witnesses that don't speak English or don't speak English very well."

Now, police officers can dial a toll-free phone number while they're in the field to get instant access to interpreters.

"We're getting such a diverse community, now a lot of Hispanic, we have the Hmong population and just visitors. It's tough to get a Hungarian translator at four in the morning."

In the past officers had to get creative and hope someone else on the police force or in another department could translate. Now officers can talk to anyone with the help of a simple phone call.

"We'll be able to get accurate information in real time... suspects, witnesses to help fill that gap -- the language barrier."

Calls will be sent through the emergency dispatch to officers and will also be available for other La Crosse area departments.

"A lot of the time those emergency situations we're going to be on scene with them, so definitely it will be there for them."

Flatten says he hopes this new technology will help improve cooperation between the public and law enforcement.

"La Crosse is definitely becoming more diverse which is a good thing. Some of those people don't speak English as their primary language."

The telelanguage program is already up and running for officers to use.

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