Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
A call comes in to the Suffolk County Police Department. A man says that he hears fighting in a neighbor's house. Two police officers answer the call. They walk up and knock on the neighbor's door.
A woman, who speaks only Spanish, insists that everything is OK. She doesn't need police. And there's absolutely no way she's going to invite them in.
What's a police cadet to do?
The first two up during the academy class exercise Tuesday tried talking to the woman in Spanish. In English. And in Spanglish, a combination of the two.
They interviewed the neighbor. Discovered that there was a child in the house. And that there was a history of domestic violence calls there too.
Other cadets would join in to discover that the woman had a sister, who - despite her sibling's protests - was practically begging the officers to do something before the abusive partner could come back.
The scenario, one of several that two platoons of police cadets tackled during three hours of Spanish-language and culture training Tuesday, went by the book.
The cadets - 26 days from graduating to become full-fledged officers - had to use everything about policing that they'd learned at the academy.
The military alphabet. Radio codes. Interviewing skills. Knowledge of the law. Respect for the public.
And they had to do it in Spanish, using newly required language skills in the most comprehensive cadet language and cultural training in the department's history.
"We're doing this because the county has changed," Richard Dormer, Suffolk's police commissioner, said in an interview. "There is a richness of diversity that must be reflected in how we go about our work."
The police department remains under the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department, which is investigating complaints of policing that discriminates against Hispanics.
In the two years since the stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero, the department has aggressively sought to mend its relationship with a growing Hispanic community.
The department named a Hispanic commander to the Fifth Precinct, and a Hispanic liaison officer to the Patchogue community. The Hispanic police officers' association supported a local Little League. Recently, the department released a Spanish-language coloring book, "La Policia y Usted," for children.
Wednesday, the liaison officer, Lola Quesada, who instructed the class, encouraged cadets to do even more. "You need to know the community you serve," she said. "Go to church on a few Sundays with your uniform on. The community will get to know you. And your mother will be happy too."
Most of the cadets began learning Spanish only last week. "We're trying to concentrate on the language," said cadet Craig Knudsen, a platoon leader. "Everyone here is ready to go into the field with a lot of confidence."
Wednesday, the class demonstrated some of that confidence by managing to get an impressively large amount of material from native Spanish speakers.
"It's the body language," said cadet Glenn Gary, one of the first to tackle a scenario. "You get a lot out the body language and you listen for some key words."
The cadets, during what will be more than 20 hours of such training, also made some cultural discoveries. Among them was that it is easier to hand over a small notebook so that Spanish-speaking people can write down their own names and birth dates rather than spell them out loud for police.
"There are no spelling bees in South and Central America," Quesada would explain in an interview later. "If you want a name, you get a name, not a spelling of a name."
The cadets - in twos, threes and at one point, a group of six - practiced what to do in a domestic conflict, in a child custody case, a traffic accident involving a nine-months-pregnant woman and a stolen-car case where none of the four passengers knew it was stolen.
In one scenario, a cadet was working so hard that he didn't realize that the woman he was telling, in Spanish, to keep her hands in the air was actually trying to ask him what was going on - in English.
"She doesn't know a word of Spanish," Quesada said, reinforcing the lesson that Long Island has a growing immigrant community that includes every culture from Italian to Salvadoran.