What can police agencies do to better prepare police officers to understand diverse backgrounds and improve communications with people who are not native speakers of English?
As societies increasingly become more urban and cosmopolitan, it becomes imperative for police officers to understand cultural idiosyncrasies and sensibilities. It is an acknowledged fact that the history of American social life is littered with instances of racial and ethnic discrimination. Minorities had borne the brunt of undue discrimination from the law enforcement apparatus. With victories won by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, some of this injustice has abated. Yet, there is no occasion for joy today, as the traditional targets are added to newly conjured threats to law and order and security. In other words, in contemporary civil affairs, police officers tend to target two particular groups – poor ethnic minorities allegedly linked to the drug trade and Muslims with perceived links to terrorism. (Walker, 2005, p.46)
The need of the hour is for police officers to develop tolerance and understanding toward members of distant cultures. Police officers might especially find it difficult to communicate due to the language barrier. This is particularly true with respect to Hispanic Americans (including those who have crossed the border illegally) and Muslims who are either first generation immigrants or on temporary work-permits. These people might at best speak broken English and at worst no English at all. Yet, it is not for the police officer to discriminate based on these deficiencies. They must proceed in carrying out their duties in an unbiased and unprejudiced fashion as mandated by their oath of office. Otherwise, their behavior will only aggravate feelings of hurt and subordination already being perceived by these cultural minorities. Police agencies can develop programs of sign language and also create awareness programs about the cultural sensibilities of minorities. These will help in reducing unnecessary confrontations and escalation of tension during discharge of duty. (Neocleous, 2004, p.77)
Walker, Samuel (2005). The New World of Police Accountability. Sage. p. 5. ISBN 0-534-58158-7.
Neocleous, Mark (2004). Fabricating Social Order: A Critical History of Police Power. Pluto Press. pp. 93–94.ISBN 978-0-7453-1489-1.