Last month, I linked to this story, among others, about Americans having to learn Spanish to keep up with the pace of Mexican immigration. The author quotes Peter Brimelow on "Creeping institutional bilingualism", and says
"With rapid immigration, many monolingual Americans are learning another language." [Second language a part of building community, Philadelphia Inquirer | Oct. 18, 2005, by Todd Mason]
I sympathize with him, I don't like studying languages myself; it strains my Anglo-Saxon brain.
But while I'd oppose forcing detectives to learn Spanish, or firing those who don't, since it tends to turn into an affirmative action program for Hispanics, I do think that it's a good idea for detectives to learn to speak Spanish—because it's increasingly the language of crime. An officer's personal safety is at risk when he doesn't know what people around him are saying.
That's the point made by Steve Albrecht in his book Streetwork: The Way To Police Officer Safety And Survival.
"Uncovering good information on the streets can lead you to felony arrests, help you cancel cases and protect you and your partner from assaults.
"To use this kind of information effectively, you need the ability to decipher what you hear on the street from citizens, witnesses, victims, and your own snitches. If it's in English, it's usually no problem to translate street talking into something useful. But what if these conversations are in Spanish? The information may just as valuable but if you aren't bilingual, and can't understand it, what good does it do you?
"'Why should I care,' you may say, 'I don't work in a Spanish-speaking area.' Think again. With Mexico on our border, and a rapidly growing Hispanic population in this country, it makes sense for police officers to learn as much Spanish as possible."
Albrecht goes on to describe an incident in which knowing Spanish made him safer:
"One night I pinched two gang members and took them uptown. En route to jail, I heard them carry on a whispered conversation in Spanish. I listened carefully and extracted enough to realize that they were planning to try to either jump me or escape when we reached the jail entrance."
He was able to remove them from the vehicle ve-e-ery carefully, and got them inside without incident.
Various quick and dirty guides to street Spanish are available, for example a video called Interactive Survival Spanish - High Risk Vehicle Stops, and this book, where one Amazon reviewer says
"I use the manual at my briefings to teach my officers what I call survival Spanish. Teaching simple commands like 'Manos Ariba' (Hands up) can be a life saver at a car stop."
Make no mistake about it, Hispanic crime is on the increase. A knowledge of Spanish will be as useful for an officer's personal safety as a knowledge of Arabic will be for an American soldier.
You can't take a translator down an alley with you, and even if you could, would you trust him with your life?
And English-speaking officers may need the language skills to protect their careers. I said I'd oppose forcing detectives to learn Spanish. But city councils don't listen to me, and eventually, detectives and patrol officers who can't speak Spanish may find their careers dead-ending.
Furthermore, if the English-speaking police can't learn Spanish that means that their departments will become controlled by Hispanic officers, which can lead to two problems; corruption, as seen in the Mexican police force; and disloyalty, expressed in an unwillingness to, for example, round up illegals.
As far as corruption is concerned, we've already seen incidences of it. The point here is that corruption is endemic to Mexico, and that therefore, more Mexican-born officers will mean more corruption.
As far as loyalty is concerned, I learned recently that the head of the Border Patrol, David Aguilar, is considered a "trusted spokesperson within the Hispanic community, communicating border-crossing policies that have a profound impact on Hispanic communities along the border."
That doesn't give me a warm glow of confidence.
What will happen when a large proportion of police officers are Spanish-speakers who were born in Mexico? (And yes, I know that there are patriotic Hispanics, and heroic Latino police officers. This is not the place for their stories.)
So, yes, it's important for police to learn Spanish, for more than one kind of survival. But not for the feel-good community outreach reasons, to better serve "under-served" Hispanic communities, but to protect themselves, and the American public, from those Hispanic communities.
Alternatively, of course, the U.S. could always stop immigration.
Nah—that would be too easy.