Overcoming language barriers at the Eau Claire Police Department

Published: Jan. 23, 2019 at 10:05 PM CST
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Eau Claire is home to more than 65,000 residents, and the Eau Claire Police Department says they often run into suspects or victims who speak a language other than English. When this happens, there isn't always someone at the department who can translate...so they use a helpful tool they say works for any language.

Communication is important in any industry but when it comes to police work, it’s vital. Local dispatchers and officers communicate with a number of people on a daily basis.

"We want to be able to get people help as fast as we can," said Dena Clark, Communications Center Manager at the Eau Claire Police Department. But that can be difficult to do when there's a language barrier.

"If we aren't able to understand them or they aren’t able to understand us, we don't know what kind of help they even need," said Clark.

She says the communications center receives calls involving some kind of language barrier as often as once a week and as few as once a month. "As soon as we determine that there is some kind of barrier that we're not able to communicate with them, we want to identify that early," said Clark.

The department utilizes a service called Language Line that gives them access to a translator for every language. "Language line is an interpreting service that we call into and they provide interpretation services over the phone," said Clark.

Officials say the hotline has been a helpful tool at the department since 2007.

"Soon as we are able to determine that there is a language barrier we do make a call into Language Line, they ask us what language we need and if we're able to identify that and then they immediately connect us with a translator of that language," said Clark.

The service provides the department access to thousands of professional interpreters fluent in more than 240 languages. Clark says the languages they need translated most often are Spanish and Hmong, but they’ve also seen Russian and other languages in the past.

Officer Bridget Coit with Eau Claire Police says officers in the field also have access to the service if they need it while responding to a call involving a suspect or victims with a language barrier.

Many medical facilities, insurance companies, and even banks use similar services for translating, as well as the Eau Claire Clerk of courts office.