The bilingualism of one Scottsdale police officer recently kept a Spanish speaker from going to jail.
Scottsdale officer Chris Kopp said he was on patrol recently near Scottsdale Fashion Square when he noticed a car trying to avoid him.
When Kopp made the traffic stop, he saw the driver was nervous and scared. But the driver calmed down after realizing Kopp spoke his language, the officer said.
"I would have arrested him if I couldn’t talk to him," he said.
Police said the incident reflects why having more Spanish-speaking officers is crucial: It makes for better communication with residents, keeps officers safer and saves money that would have to be spent on civilian interpreters.
Kopp is among the nine Scottsdale Police Department employees — including patrol officers, a detention officer and a dispatcher — taking a test next week that would allow them to become certified translators. They will be tested on performing field sobriety tests, pronouncing Miranda rights, explaining citations and other policeoriented conversations.
"We anticipate we’ll get five new translators out of the group," said detective Ron Bayne, the department’s Spanish coordinator.
In April, the department sent the employees to Hermosillo, Mexico, for an immersion program in which they stayed with host families and took classes for about 10 days. The program cost the department $850 per student. Instructors from Partners in Training Consultants, a Spanish training program for law enforcement personnel, taught classes at the police department in Hermosillo.
"The real training they get is not from the classroom, but talking to the families and the (Mexican) police officers," said Bayne, who met his wife during a similar program in Phoenix.
Some Spanish speakers are hesitant to report crimes because they don’t know whether anyone can talk to them when they call police, Bayne said.
"We’re trying to show that there are," he said.
Recently, Bayne asked a crowd of Spanish speakers to call police with information about two suspected gang related incidents in a south Scottsdale neighborhood at a community meeting where he used his bilingual skills.
According to the 2000 census, 5.8 percent of Scottsdale residents spoke Spanish at home, said city spokesman Mike Phillips. Also, 2.4 percent of residents claimed Spanish as their primary language and spoke "English less than very well," he said.
Of the department’s 377 officers, 21 are interpreters, said city spokesman Pat Dodds.
Bayne, who recently became the department’s part-time spokesman so he could give interviews to Spanish media, said employees are paid $50 extra per month if they are certified and are using the language.