Online training course helps Chicago police learn Spanish

National Institute of Justice (NIJ) interactive training course is helping Chicago police officers learn Spanish and apply it on the job

Español for Law Enforcement: An Interactive Training Tool, was developed for NIJ by the Eastern Kentucky University Training Resource Center several years ago as a CD-ROM and online course to equip officers with a working knowledge of Spanish that they could use at crime scenes and during interviews, traffic stops and domestic violence situations.

The basic knowledge portion of the training covers fundamentals such as letters, numbers, days of the week, helpful words and phrases and courteous expressions. It also covers arrest commands and phrases helpful for obtaining descriptions of suspects from victims and witnesses. It includes phonetic spelling and audio pronunciation of words and phrases.

The training includes video interview scenarios on a traffic accident, the report of a missing child and drug use. The crime scene module features scenarios on responding to a noise complaint and a burglary. Motor vehicle scenarios cover a routine traffic stop, a DUI traffic stop and a felony traffic stop. Another module covers domestic violence situations. Exams are included at the end of the training.

The Chicago Police Academy had Spanish language training for recruits, but the department wanted to make Spanish training available to all officers through its internal e-learning system. After receiving a CD-ROM of the NIJ training program, the department adapted it for its own use, according to Martin Foley, a training officer with the department’s Education and Training Division.

Foley adapted portions of the NIJ training for his department’s internal system. He said the training in general is very helpful, and particularly useful are the scenarios that cover motor vehicle stops, crime scenes and descriptions.

More than 1,000 Chicago officers have participated in the training since 2010, according to Foley. The course is voluntary and officers can take it at any time at their own pace. The department does not follow up with formal evaluations of the course. However, participants have stated that the training provides a good refresher of information they learned in high school or college.

“Response has been favorable, and actually officers have asked if we could use the same program to provide training in other languages,” Foley says. “It’s not mandatory training, but still over 1,000 have found it and taken it.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people of Hispanic or Latino descent comprise about 29 percent of  Chicago’s population.

“Basically, the training is to reach out to the Hispanic community in Chicago. We have a large Hispanic community, and this is one way to keep officers safe and improve communication with the community,” Foley says.

“It helps from an officer safety standpoint because if I can say ‘let me see your hands’ in Spanish, it’s a good thing to do. It enhances communication, which helps with officer safety. It also helps people who may be afraid of police because of the country where they came from, so  it can be an icebreaker and put them at ease,” Foley adds.

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