Sheriff’s office

Published 2:24 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2008

By Staff
works to defeat
language barrier
Deputies need to know Spanish in emergencies
Staff Writer
People who dial 911 need help regardless of what language they speak, said Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan.
Also, tracking criminals is much easier when deputies speak the same language as the villains or the victims, Jordan said.
In Beaufort County, that increasingly means that sheriff’s deputies and telecommunicators have to be able to speak at least rudimentary Spanish, he said.
Concerns about the politics of immigration are secondary when deputies are placed in emergency situations, Jordan said.
And it’s not just Spanish, either. Telecommunicator Crystal Marriner remembered people speaking Asian languages calling in for help. And Marriner said she was once flummoxed by a thick Scottish burr.
In the end, he used mostly hand signals to tell the Teutonic travelers to ease up on the accelerator.
But Spanish is by far the most-common language deputies and telecommunicators face.
Marriner said it makes up almost a quarter of the 911 calls she receives.
She’s taken some courses, and she understands enough Spanish to get by on most of the calls, she said.
Usually, it’s enough for her to tell the deputy responding the basics of what’s going on: If someone is hurt, if anyone at the scene has a weapon, if someone as been assaulted and the like.
The sheriff’s office’s interpreter, Sgt. Ben Corea, teaches a course in “survival Spanish” from time to time to give deputies and telecommunicators the basics they need for communicating with Spanish-speakers.
But just as English words and accents vary among nations, as between Ireland and Australia, and within nations, as between Louisiana and Maine, Spanish-speakers use a variety of Spanish dialects, which can differ widely.
Corea said he’s also run across Cubans, Puerto Ricans, El Salvadoreans and other Spanish-speaking ethnicities on the job. Also, some speakers are using slang rather than more formal language, just as in English there’s a difference between “shot” and “popped a cap in.”
There is a service called Language Line that telecommunicators may call for help, but it’s not always convenient. So, sometimes officers ask Spanish-speakers to find someone nearby who can translate.
Often, that means children, who came to the country at a younger age and are in the public school system.
Other times, the sheriff’s office relies on Corea.
Corea said he talks to an average of two or three Spanish-speakers a day, though some of those interactions are responding to questions asked of the sheriff’s office.
Jordan said Corea’s arrival often alleviates the frustration of people who haven’t been able to communicate with officers.
Corea said he thinks is presence can also be reassuring for the foreign-born.
In fact, Corea is so in-demand that he has been loaned to other counties that need help on cases involving Spanish-speakers. Corea was particularly valuable in a case involving an alleged murderer’s possible suicide note in Craven County, he said.
He said he’s happy to be able to send Corea to other jurisdictions.