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Police Complaints Board Issues Report on D.C. Police Language Access Policies

Friday, June 29, 2018
Report highlights areas for improvement in language access training and policies

WASHINGTON, DC – The District of Columbia Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), issued a report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham regarding MPD’s language access policies and procedures, and training for their officers.

The Language Access Act of 2004 established requirements for all District government programs, departments, and services “with major public contact” to assess and meet the language needs of “the population served or encountered, or likely to be served or encountered.”

Through body-worn camera footage, OPC investigators observed interactions with MPD officers and community members with limited or no English proficiency (LEP/NEP) where the LEP/NEP community members were not offered language access services in compliance with the Department’s “Language Access Program” policy.  In addition, the PCB noticed the Department’s policy on using children, family members, or friends of the community member as interpreters provide contradictory instructions in two different sections of the document.

To address concerns about the Department’s language access policies and training for their officers, the PCB recommends:

  • MPD should update General Order 304.18 to clarify that children, family, or friends of the subject are not to be used as interpreters absent exigent circumstances only.
  • MPD must ensure that all members have a complete understanding of General Order 304.18 and the Language Access Act of 2004, including retraining where necessary.
  • MPD must ensure all its members are prepared to utilize interpretation services and that only officers qualified to serve as interpreters are dispatched to do so.
  • MPD should ensure that training includes members identifying when a person needs interpretation services, as well as clarification that requesting interpretative services is the responsibility of the MPD officer, not the community member.

“In order to strengthen community trust, it’s very important that the Metropolitan Police Department review its language access policies and training,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director.  “Appropriately providing these services to all limited and non-English proficient individuals is absolutely necessary in improving community-police interactions in the District of Columbia.”

To view a full copy of PCB’s report and sample complaints received by OPC, visit https://policecomplaints.dc.gov/page/policy-recommendations.