Nearly 47% of Spanish speakers who called the Nassau County Police Department earlier this year to test its language accessibility were unable to get assistance, according to a report released Tuesday by a pair of advocacy groups.
The study, by the Manhattan-based New York Immigration Coalition and the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, was designed to test the Nassau police department's ability and willingness to provide interpreters or translation services for non-English speakers seeking assistance — as is required by local and federal law.
The department has faced criticism for nearly a decade about language access from members of the Hispanic community.
Seven bilingual testing volunteers placed 94 calls from Feb. 1 to April 18 seeking information from the department's eight precincts and police headquarters in Mineola on issues such as how to obtain an accident report, where to take the next police officer exam and receiving help with an apartment eviction.
What to know
- Nearly 47% of calls placed to the Nassau Police earlier this year by Spanish-speaking individuals, seeking to test the department’s services for those who do not speak proficient English, were unable to receive assistance.
- As part of the test, many callers reported being hung up on, told to call 911 or were never connected to someone who spoke their language. Another 53% of callers received the translation services they were requesting
- Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said during a one-year period beginning in August 2021 the county's Language Access Line, a service that connects officers to live translators through a phone app, successfully interacted with more than 2,100 individuals.
The study found that 23 callers were either disconnected or the person that answered hung up on them; nine were never connected to someone who spoke their language; eight calls were never answered and on four occasions, the officer could not provide an answer. In total, testers were unable to obtain assistance with nearly 47% of all calls, including eight placed to police headquarters, the report said.
The remaining 50 calls — or 53.2% — received assistance, either by being transferred to Language Access Line, a service that connects officers to live translators through a phone app, or a bilingual officer.
"This is unacceptable," said Ivan Larios, an organizer with the New York Immigration Coalition, who helped write the report.
"Imagine if it was a question of a person calling for a domestic violence case, which has happened in the real life," Larios said, "and the victim did not get the appropriate services because they don't speak the language."
An officer at the Fourth Precinct repeatedly told a caller in February "No habla español” — he didn't speak Spanish — before hanging up, according to the report. Multiple other callers were told to call 911 or to visit a precinct for assistance, the report said.
"The Nassau Police Department has to do better," said Cheryl Keshner, founder and coordinator of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition. "They're not meeting their legal obligation to serve the entire community. This is a discriminatory practice that they're engaging in."
According to Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, from August 2021 through August 2022, the county's Language Access Line successfully interacted with more than 2,100 individuals.
“I have personally advised the members of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition that if there is an issue with any of the components of the Language Line, I be contacted immediately so that we can complete a full investigation and rectify any issues if need be," he said. "To date, I have not been contacted by any members from LILAC with regard to the Language Access Line.”
In response, Keshner said the Coalition has brought its previous testing results to the department’s attention mutliple times “yet we have not seen any commitment to making the necessary improvements. If the top brass in the NCPD is not monitoring how language assistance is being provided within its ranks, then clearly, there is a problem.”
The study recommends hiring more officers who speak languages other than English; developing a training program for officers in coordination with certified language experts and holding officers who do not provide language services accountable for their actions.
In 2013, Nassau police, facing pressure from local advocacy groups, entered into an agreement with the state Attorney General's Office to provide improved language assistance to residents who do not speak English. Then-County Executive Edward Mangano signed a pair of executive orders later that year, mandating language access at all county agencies.
The department later expanded the Language Access Line to all patrol vehicles. In 2020, as part of the department's state-mandated police reforms, then-County Executive Laura Curran released Nassau's Language Access Plan detailing the resources available to the non-English speaking community, including use of department interpreters, language identification cards distributed by patrol officers and the translation of written material to other languages.
More than 164,000 Nassau residents speak Spanish at home while more than 75,000 speak English "less than very well," according to a 2020 Census survey.
"When police do not properly address communication barriers, they place the lives of our [Limited English Proficient] community members, particularly people of color, in jeopardy," the report said.