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Police Complaints Board Recommends Measures to Enhance Public’s Access to Language Assistance During Police Encounters

Thursday, July 16, 2009

(Washington, DC) The Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), submitted a report and set of recommendations to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier urging MPD to improve police services for people with limited English ability. 

Persons with limited English proficiency (or “LEP”) are those whose primary language is not English and who have a limited ability to read, write, speak or understand English.  Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, French and Amharic are the non-English languages most frequently encountered by District government agencies.

Over the past few years, OPC has received complaints from individuals alleging they were mistreated or ignored by MPD officers as well as denied access to basic MPD resources and services as a result of their limited ability to speak English.

MPD is obligated pursuant to the District’s Language Access Act of 2004 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide people with limited English proficiency meaningful access to all of its services, programs and activities.  Although MPD has taken many steps to provide greater access to police services for individuals who are not fluent in English, PCB believes that the Department should implement further measures in order to comply fully with the applicable laws. 

For example, MPD’s current language access general orders and training should be strengthened to stress officers’ mandatory, nondiscretionary obligation to serve the LEP community and to provide clear, step-by-step instruction in recognizing the need for and providing language assistance to LEP individuals, particularly during field encounters. 

“The Washington DC area has a large population of individuals who are not comfortable speaking or understanding English,” said Philip K. Eure, OPC’s executive director.  “Because encounters with MPD officers can result in the use of force and the loss of liberty, it is therefore crucial that our police officers recognize and understand the obligation to provide language assistance to the people who need it.”

  To view a full copy of PCB’s full report and recommendations, click on the link below: