The City Auditor’s Independent Police Review found that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) does not provide officers with enough guidance on when to engage interpretation services and which resources are appropriate for communicating in interactions with non-English speakers.
The Review noted that inconsistent use of language services may not violate PPB policy, but recommends changes be made to strengthen effective communication and build trust.
A community member’s trust in police is heavily tied to the ability to communicate effectively and be understood. Communication in a person’s most comfortable language is a critical aspect of police encounters.
Even if officers try their best, confusion or frustration by a community member still matters. Even one negative interaction with a law enforcement officer can shape a person’s trust and experience of the entire justice system.
Common themes across complaints include being denied an interpreter when requested, miscommunications and confusion when officers use a person’s family member to interpret and searches occurring without the informed consent of a community member.
Additionally, the Review received complaints that officers sometimes do not use a bilingual officer or other translation methods, such as the language line, and do not give clear justification on why they don’t.
The most recent population analysis by the City of Portland estimates that approximately one in 12 Portlanders are considered to have limited proficiency with the English language.
Areas with higher concentrations of people with limited English proficiency, including East Portland neighborhoods, are similar to the areas where the PPB reports the most dispatched calls for service.
The three areas identified where officers need more guidance are providing a clearer standard for when a language service is needed, a prohibition on informal forms of interpretation and translation, and clearer guidance on when it is appropriate to use a bilingual officer versus a certified interpreter or the language line.
For the full report visit bit.ly/PPBimprovements.