>Our Multilingual Metro Police


Agenda packets for the Customer Service, Operations and Safety Committee (CSOS) and the Finance Administration and Oversight Committees (FAO) for Metro are out, one of my favorite days of the month.  Yes, I am a transit nerd.  I’ll be posting some articles during the next couple days on interesting items.  I read the reports so you don’t have to.

From the CSOS Committee report (PDF):

In addition to English, Metro has police officers that speak Arabic (3), Chinese (2), French (4), German (3), ASL (3), Italian (1), Korean (1), Spanish (18), and Vietnamese (1).  Three out of 16 recent recruits speak Spanish.  This is out of a Metro Transit Police department population of 578, which includes 465 members of the two police force unions, according to the FY 2009 Approved Budget (huge PDF).  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we probably don’t have many French, German, or Italian-only speaking Metro customers, so we’re talking about 28 officers out of 465 that serve customers with a potential language barrier.  That’s about 6% of the force.  Is that high enough?

Metro also didn’t report what the standard for “speaking” a foreign language would be, is it native fluency, competency, familiarity?  Being able to speak, listen, read, write?  I took four years of Spanish but can only handle basics at this point and read documents only if I have a lot of context.  I took one year of Russian and can now only say some basic phrases, recognize some words and sound out the Cyrillic alphabet.  My wife lived in Spain for a year and a half and was considered fluent, but is probably a little rusty.  What level of competency do these 36 language competent officers have?

I wonder if this population of language speakers happened by design or by chance.  Since Metro serves populations where many members speak another language primarily (like Spanish or Korean), then some funded efforts to get more foreign language competency may be justified.  Some of these efforts might be recruitment bonuses for foreign language speakers, community recruitment outreach, language classes or the use of language training materials.

The Board or its committee should be asking these questions of the Metro Police Chief, Michael Taborn.


About perkinsms

I'm an engineer and father interested in transit, parking and economics.
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3 Responses to >Our Multilingual Metro Police

  1. Mark says:

    >How much English do you need to deal with a cop?”I need help. I speak little English. My problem is xyz.” should be about all you need.Also, the problem comes in: what languages do you value? Or, even if you attempt to accommodate people, there are hundreds or thousands of languages. You cannot accommodate everyone. Is it a good idea to actively discriminate against some people?

  2. Michael says:

    >This is one of those decisions we hire politicians for. There is no right answer. Certainly the region has some fraction of the population that does not speak very good English, and it’s up to the staff and the WMATA board to determine at what level you decide that a population is too small for the agency to take an active role in providing language support. As we become wealthier as a nation, we have the means to care about stuff that we did not before, like translation services, ADA requirements and other methods to make sure that the previously forgotten segments of the population are brought more into the mainstream.Providing police officers that are familiar with other languages and cultures can pay off when an immigrant community feels comfortable going to the police to report on suspected crimes and knows that they will be understood.

  3. Mark says:

    >Is your goal to increase non-Anglophone ridership (in which case having multiphonic police would be an economic decision), or to help, at no economic benefit, certain segments of the population (in which case this would be at the expense of other segments)?If the former, than it should not take political decisions, since Metro as a profit making entity should make correct decisions. If it is to help only some segments of the population, would it not be better to spend that money on things that help everyone, such as better maintenence of the tracks or trains? (I know someone who blogs about how DC Metro has worse performance than other big cities. I’ll have to put you in touch… 😉 )Also, I think I rode the metro something like 2000 times, and I never once spoke to a metro cop. I’m not saying that their vague, invisible hand presense is not valuable, but I’m not sure why tons of Spanish/Korean tourists need to talk to them on a daily basis.ALSO, if you are saying that politicians should be involved, then this is apparently an issue that is supposed to benefit American citizens. If so, I’m not sure who these people are that speak only (say) Korean but are citizens are. I’ve certainly not dealt with (m)any of them.Personally, I think a lot of quasi-quota issues go okay. The company makes a big deal about how they ‘seek qualified minority and/or female applicants’, but then they do what they want in hiring.

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