Immigrant rights organization Make the Road New York has filed a complaint against the NYPD, alleging that the department has failed to provide interpretation services for New Yorkers who speak limited English.
In May 2017, the NYPD announced an effort with Legal Services NYC meant to ensure that people will be able to communicate with the city’s police officers “no matter what language they speak.”
The NYPD, like all New York City agencies that provide direct public services, is required by law to provide translation and interpretation services in the city’s most commonly spoken languages. New York’s 10 “designated city languages” per the mayor’s office include Spanish, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Russian and more.
But the NYPD has been failing limited-English speaking New Yorkers, Make the Road New York alleges, by denying these translation services.
“I tried to file a report to the police after I was physically attacked, but the police officers did not allow me to, just because I did not speak English,” said Victor Sanchez, a complainant and member of Make the Road New York, in a statement. “I did not feel safe and I do not feel like I have the same protection or access to services as English-speaking people. All NYPD officers need to comply with the law and provide interpretation services to those of us who do not speak English.”
NYPD’s history with translation services
This isn’t the first time the NYPD has been accused of failing limited-English speaking New Yorkers. The department’s May 2017 announcement concerning new protocols was made specifically to address issues raised in a lawsuit filed by Legal Services NYC in 2013.
In 2013, the New York Daily News reported that a victim of domestic violence who sought help from the NYPD was denied an interpreter, leading to the women and her son ordered out of the home by officers even though she had an order of protection against her (English-speaking) estranged husband.
A 2010 New York Times article touches on this issue as well, detailing a federal review by the Justice Department’s Office for Civil Rights, that found the NYPD “often fails to ensure that New Yorkers who do not speak English have critical access to certified interpreters when seeking police assistance.”
The complaint from Make the Road New York aims to hold the NYPD accountable and ensure that the department comply with the New York City Human Rights law along with its own policies. One Make the Road New York organizer, Bianey Garcia, said that she accompanied members “approximately 15 times to different precincts, and repeatedly have seen interpretation not being offered to people when they arrive there.”
When limited-English speakers are denied an interpreter, Make the Road New York says, it compromises this population’s safety.
In response to a request for comment, an NYPD rep reiterated the department’s commitment to “providing police services no matter what language the individual speaks.”
“Each NYPD officer is equipped with a department cellphone which can be used to contact an interpreter. A certified interpreter can be accessed 24 hours a day via the NYPD’s language line service on a department cell phone or dual handset telephone that is located in every precinct complaint room, detective squad, Police Service Area, and Transit District complaint room,” the statement continued. “In addition to language services, many officers in the NYPD are bilingual and use these skills when dealing with individuals with limited English proficiency.”