Southwest Missouri law enforcement and emergency workers are preparing for their third day in class to learn how to efficiently and kindly communicate in Spanish. The class is being offered for the first time in this area.
Lunch at Habaneros Mexican Restaurant in Carthage. But there's a catch.
"We had to speak Spanish to them, and they couldn't speak any English to us," says Jennifer Crane, co-owner of Habaneros.
Crane is hosting a little more than a dozen law enforcement workers from across Southwest Missouri.
"We're just having fun with it, really," says Crane.
It's good practice for these law enforcement workers to learn only a few, but important Spanish words and sentences.
"If I know I have Spanish speakers in my community, if I can give the command in English and Spanish, that puts me and that person in a much better position," says Kevan Dugan, class teacher.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 25 percent of Carthage's population of about 14,000 is Hispanic.
Chris Ott, a student in this class and a Carthage police officer, has been out on calls where he doesn't understand what's going on because no one, other than him, understands English.
"We can't effectively help out the community if we don't know Spanish," says Ott.
"You have to rely on maybe calling and having somebody translate. Emergency services can us a 'language line," says Ott.
Ott and others are learning to ask in Spanish, "Do you have a social security number?" "Tell me yes or no, are you married?" "Tell me the name of a person to call in case of an emergency."
"Response times will improve," says Ott.
"Drop the weapon!"
"That puts me and that person in a much better position for the encounter to end in a manner below lethal force," says Dugan.
"Do you have children at home?" "Is someone caring for the children?"
"We can be more effective in the community," says Ott.
Crane knows her restaurant workers are sometimes intimidated by police because of a language barrier.
"They just get really shy or nervous about it because they're afraid they're going to mess up," says Crane.
The goal of this class is to learn that some caring words in Spanish, besides the aggressive police talk that's sometimes needed, can brighten interactions.
"Through polling, law enforcement is very much trusted in this country by the folks who come here, in comparison to law enforcement in some of their own countries. But it's tough to let go of that (previous interactions with police in different countries). So everything we can do to expand upon that trust is 2 plus 2 equals 8," says Dugan.
This seminar goes until Friday. Students are being told, as follow-up after this class, that practice makes perfect.
KOAM - Licensed to Pittsburg, Kansas