Rights Groups Advocate SFPD Language Access Policy: Calls for increased education and awareness on its provisions

By Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/Asianjournal.com

SAN FRANCISCO — Civil rights organizations, legal services groups and representatives of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) highlighted the provisions of the SFPD’s Department General Order (DGO) 5.20, a comprehensive language access protocol. A call for increased community education and awareness on the rights contained in the DGO was expressed as well.

The DGO 5.20, or Language Access Services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Persons, outlines a clear protocol to guide the SFPD in their interactions with the LEP residents they serve. Some hallmarks of the DGO include requiring officers to provide access to free language assistance to LEP individuals they encounter; requiring interviews with LEP witnesses or victims to be conducted by a bilingual officer or qualified civilian interpreter; ensuring that family members, neighbors,friends, and bystanders are not used as interpreters; and providing forms to witnesses or victims in their primary language.

The highest order within the SFPD, the DGO was unanimously voted and adopted by the SFPD in October 2007, and is amongst the strongest and most comprehensive language access policies of any police department in the US. However, many community groups felt that there needs to be an increased outreach to English-learner communities on the provisions of the DGO.

“We are a very diverse community,” said Angela Chan, Staff Attorney for the Juvenile Justice Project at the Asian Law Caucus, in a brief phone interview with Asian Journal.

“This protocol affects all aspects of the community — it impacts the youth, touches on immigration, and assures safety within the community.”

Chan also added that 37 percent of San Francisco’s population are immigrants and/or LEPs, so the passage of the policy is an important step in assuring a more thorough protection for immigrant families, as well as be able to understand due process in any legal or police situation.

The need for a strong language policy at the SFPD was particularly felt following some alarming incidents between LEP individuals and police officers, which were intensified by language barriers. Cases of SFPD shootings of LEP men, both Chinese Americans were reported in 2003 and 2004. Both men were said to be in need of mental health services, and advocates felt that a clear language protocol could have been used to address the communication problem between the SFPD and LEP to prevent such situations. Other cases reported involved police shootings of LEP individuals throughout the Bay Area, including the death of a Vietnamese woman in San Jose in 2003 and two Korean men in 2005 in Dublin.


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