State Highway Safety Showcase
Spanish Language Training Program for Public Safety Personnel
Between 1990-2000, the Latino population in the United States increased 57.9 percent. This increase, coupled with an acute shortage of bi-lingual officers, has created a language crisis where officers cannot perform their duties due to the language barrier. Further compounding the language and cultural issues for law enforcement are the traffic statistics for the Latino population. According to NHTSA1, the number one cause of death for Latino males between the ages of 1-44 is motor vehicle collisions. In addition, Latino males are eight times more likely to die from the injuries received in a collision than males from other ethnic groups and have higher rates of alcohol related motor vehicle crashes.
The inability to communicate becomes an issue whenever a non Spanish-speaking officer attempts to explain field sobriety tests to a monolingual motorist. Often, officers that encounter a motorist suspected of driving while under the influence release them without taking enforcement action because of their inability to communicate with the driver. This has led to Latino motorists feigning an inability to speak English with officers that they perceive to be non-Spanish speakers. The inability to take enforcement action emboldens impaired drivers, relinquishes the judicial system’s ability to punish aberrant motorists, and heightens the risk of death or serious injury to every person traveling on our roadways.
The Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) recognized this issue and implemented a Spanish language-training program developed specifically for public safety. The program consists of two separate classes. The basic course is a five-day, 40-hour class that introduces students to the Spanish language. Upon completion, officers can conduct an impaired driving investigation, perform a traffic stop, issue arrest commands and complete a high-risk stop entirely in Spanish. Officers also receive training on danger words, gang slang, weapons, drug terminology and Latino culture. The GOHS office pays each student’s tuition and course materials.
The second class is an intensive ten-day, 100-hour immersion course that requires every student to reside at the training facility for its duration. This immersion course is equivalent to 2-years of college level Spanish. Students receive intensive instruction in Spanish grammar and verb conjugation. On the morning of the third day, students are prohibited from speaking English. After this course, students will understand approximately 70 percent of what someone states in Spanish and have the tools necessary to respond appropriately. GOHS pays each student’s lodging, tuition, student materials and meals in the immersion course. The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training board approves both courses.
The program has been a resounding success, with the demand for training exceeding our expectations. Many officers have submitted examples of how they applied the training in actual situations, including during impaired driving investigations, domestic violence calls, and critical incidents involving armed suspects.
- Lieutenant Martin E. Moreno
Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety
310 S. Williams Boulevard, Suite 315
Tucson, AZ 85711