W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Teams up with San Francisco Police Department to Improve Services for Survivors who Speak Limited English

Earlier last year, Paola Souto, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Latina Program Manager, went with one of her Latina clients to make a police report about domestic violence. The Police Service Aide at the Mission Station refused to use a language service to communicate directly with the survivor and after waiting for hours and hours, Souto and her client were told that there was no Spanish-speaking officer available to take the report and they should leave.

Even though Souto is bilingual, she is unable to translate for police reports because she is not a certified interpreter and if the case goes to court it would not count as valid evidence.

A few days later, Souto and her client went to the Hall of Justice to try to file a domestic violence police report. However, they were made to wait for over six hours and again told there were no Spanish-speaking officers coming to take the report. Once more, the police officer who talked with them refused to use the language line.

“Police reports are key for many survivors; they may be a part of their healing process—making a police report can be very empowering and also give validation to the survivor that they do not deserve to be abused—or can be part of the application for immigration benefits,” Souto said.

Incidents, such as these, are the reason why W.O.M.A.N., Inc. is so focused on making a change.

W.O.M.A.N., Inc. has been participating in the San Francisco Police Department Community meetings on Language Access Services since February 2012. These meetings include a group that meets every month to improve the services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) survivors of abuse. Among those who participate in the meeting are Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO), the Domestic Violence Consortium (DVC), Department of Emergency Management (DEM or 911 dispatchers), the Office of Citizen Complaints, and the San Francisco Police Department.

These meetings are focused on specific obstacles that LEP survivors face and the group has come up with the following action plan:

1. Improve the training at the police academy that is centered on domestic violence and abuse when a LEP person is involved. Presently there is a draft in final revision that includes domestic violence and elder abuse cases as well as wrongful arrests. A wrongful arrest is when a survivor is arrested because the police officer is not clear about what is going on or because the abuser is able to convince police officers that the survivor is actually the one being abusive.

2. Develop a training for Police Service Aides that has taken place throughout 2012 at each police station on how to better serve LEP survivors.

3. Create a card in different languages to show to LEP survivors when they go to a police station to make a report. This card explains that the SFPD cares about their situation and will do their best to find a police officer that speaks their language. The police service aide shows this card to the LEP person and using the language line, explains they will request an officer to take their report. Police Service Aides can take some police reports, but not domestic violence or sexual assault reports. These cards are currently in use at all police stations.

4. Improve the dispatcher system so that when the 911 dispatchers receive a call from a LEP person, they can see if there is an officer in the area that speaks the needed language. This new system is set to start operating in January 2014.

5. Offer certification exams for bilingual officers on a regular basis. Only certified bilingual officers can take a LEP survivor’s testimony for a police report. If there is not certified officer available, any officer can take a report using the language line. The required exam to get certified was offered about once a year and officers did not know when or where it would happen until last minute. Currently, efforts are being made to make sure that these exams are offered on a regular basis (hopefully four times a year) and made available for as many officers as possible.

A recent report made by the National immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (NIWAP) found similar issues:

• Police used unqualified interpreters in 30% of reported cases;

• The police spoke only with the perpetrator who spoke English in 8.1% of domestic violence cases and 10.7% of sexual assault cases; and

• The police did not take reports in 9.6% of sexual assault cases; in 10.4% of domestic violence cases and 11.8% of human trafficking case involving immigrant crime victim clients.

A common obstacle that Latina Program survivors experience is not being able to communicate with the responding officer when they call 911 during a violent incident.

There are many struggles that non-English speaking survivors face. Souto has heard countless stories about survivors calling the police only to not be able to communicate with the officer that shows up at the scene, and thus not being able make the report.  Since she herself has struggled to make such reports with LEP clients, W.O.M.A.N. Inc. is doing their best to partner up with the SFPD to make changes possible.

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