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Police vow to improve access for non-English speakers

The Nassau County Police Department has agreed to take steps that make it easier for residents who don't speak English to file complaints or serve as witnesses.

Yesterday's announcement came from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office has been reviewing the compliance of police departments in New York with federal Civil Rights Act requirements.

The agreement also followed complaints from civil rights and Hispanic advocates asking for more bilingual police recruits.

Agreed-upon improvements include providing interpretation and translation services, recruiting more bilingual police officers, training existing officers and translating written materials. The changes take effect immediately.

The resulting "language access program" will be reviewed regularly by the department and Schneiderman's office.

"Access to our state's justice system should not depend on the ability to read or write English," Schneiderman said in a statement.

Nassau Police Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki said in a statement that the department "is committed to ensuring" effective communication "with those seeking assistance."

Inspector Kenneth Lack, a Nassau police spokesman, said the department has been seeking more bilingual recruits, offering interpreter services and making bilingual staff available.

According to 2011 census estimates, 28 percent of Nassau County's 1.3 million residents over 5 years of age speak languages other than English, with Spanish ranking as the second-most-used language.

Community advocates hailed the change, but said they would like to see bilingual policies adopted across all county and local government agencies.

"This is sending a loud message that public safety is not just for the English speakers," said Lucía Gómez-Jimenez, executive director of La Fuente Long Island Civic Participation Project, a Hispanic advocacy group in Hempstead. "Protecting all residents and making sure they have access to the police force is critical."

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