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.