Law enforcement agencies in the Midlands region of South Carolina recently gathered to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed from September 15 to October 15, and introduce a new phone app to break down language barriers and build relationships with the community they serve.
Agencies including the Cayce, Lexington, Richlands, West Columbia and Springdale police departments recently adopted the language app “Say Hi” to facilitate communication with Hispanic immigrants. The app translates 98 languages by detecting a user’s voice, allowing officers to conveniently translate English to Spanish instantly.
“This morning we’re not here just to celebrate Hispanic culture but we’re also here to celebrate our partnerships with the Hispanic community,” Cayce Police Chief Chris Cowan said, according to ABC Columbia.
The Cayce Police Department recently launched the Hispanic Community Leadership Initiative, a collaborative effort to bring law enforcement agencies closer with the Hispanic community, regardless of language or immigration status. Over the past year, the sheriff has formed partnerships with local businesses, law enforcement agencies and organizations like the South Carolina Coalition against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCDVSA).
One of the major problems encountered in building relationships has been communication difficulties due to language barriers. Cowan hopes the new tool will solve this problem.
“How do we communicate? How do we hear what’s going on? How do we provide our services? Well, we can’t do that if we don’t understand the language,” Cowan said.
Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said Midland’s agencies are also working to recruit more Hispanic and bilingual officers to represent the growing minority of Hispanics in the region.
“We law enforcement in the Midlands have had great successes with hiring more Hispanic officers and more bilingual officers, but there is still more work to do,” Koon said.
Silvino Escreno is a community leader with the newly formed committee Si Se Puede — or “Yes, We Can” — which is dedicated to forging relationships between law enforcement and the Hispanic community. Escreno believes the tool will help build trust between residents and police.
“It’s a huge advantage because now we can trust the police, now people coming from another country — not only Spanish but other languages — they will be able to communicate with the law enforcement and that’s a huge advantage.”
SCCADVASA Systems Advocacy Director Tricia Ravenhorst said that language barriers often deter victims who are recent immigrants from reaching out for help.
“Our goal is just to help our law enforcement partners increase their access to both the monetary and human resources they need to effectively communicate with all members of the community,” Ravenhorst said, according to WACH News. “We want to welcome, in South Carolina, people from all over the world, and we want to make sure regardless of those differences, no one deserves to be a victim of crime, and everyone deserves to get help when they need it.”
West Columbia Police Chief Marion Boyce said in a statement: “We, at the West Columbia Police Dept., believe that language should never be a barrier when it comes to public safety. Our mission is to provide a quality police service to all people. We are excited to be a part of the Si Se Puede team and look forward to building relationships within our Hispanic community.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott also released a statement about the efforts.
“Our Hispanic community is one of the things that make the Midlands so special and we should celebrate them. Language should never be a barrier between peace officers and the Hispanic community,” he said.