Sheriff encourages deputies to learn Spanish, sign language to aide in law enforcement
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Fremont, June 1, 2012: The Sandusky County sheriff hopes to bridge any communication gaps or language barriers with Spanish-speaking Latinos in the Fremont area by encouraging his deputies to become bilingual. It’s largest city and county seat—Fremont—has a population of over 16 percent Latino.
Sheriff Kyle Overmyer recognizes Sandusky County has a growing Latino population that only gets bigger in the summertime when migrant farm workers arrive to pick crops from strawberry season and stay until early fall when tomatoes and cucumbers ripen.
“I hope most of my deputies will at least be able to understand the basics and bring that communication gap together when they’re out on calls or at least understand what the issue is with the individual who can’t speak English,” he said.
Sheriff Overmyer stated the new skill set could prevent miscommunication, lead to better response times, and gain the trust of the Latino community. Only a handful of deputies speak Spanish now and have to be called out to act as interpreters, which takes up valuable time in the case of an emergency situation.
“There’s a lot of guessing if it’s a deputy who’s non-Spanish-speaking or we have to get an interpreter or hope that one of our Spanish-speaking deputies is on duty at that time,” he said. “It’s a safety issue. What if there is a real true emergency? We can’t help them like we need to. What if something happens? It’s not fair to the individual who has the complaint or the emergency.”
Sheriff Overmyer explained that Sandusky County is home to several migrant worker camps each summer and Spanish-speaking deputies are one way to make them feel welcome and safe, “instead of feeling like an outsider.” By the same token, Spanish-speaking deputies possibly can gain the trust and help of Latinos who have settled in Fremont and smaller nearby communities.
“I think it’s a great way of trust-building and gaining a rapport,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but sometimes there are elements in society who perceive that police can be aggressive and we’re really not.”
At 38, Sheriff Overmyer is the youngest county sheriff in Ohio and admitted the idea is a “little outside the box.” But he’s the same sheriff who decided to have jail inmates raise chickens and plant an urban garden to save money, rehabilitate prisoners, and ensure they’re eating fresh vegetables.
So the sheriff recently purchased a Rosetta Stone language program for just under $400 and plans to distribute it among 50 to 60 employees—saving thousands on language classes.
“If we can restore the communication gap and make things easier, then let’s do it,” he said. “What an inexpensive way to educate them and an effective way of doing it.”
The Spanish lessons may be most important to 911 dispatchers who field emergency calls. If the situation can be sorted out properly with the first line of law enforcement, lives can be saved through quicker and more appropriate response.
Sheriff Overmyer also intends to have some deputies learn sign language in order to better respond to the hearing impaired.