Public Safety Issues

| Law Enforcement | Emergency Services | Emergency Preparedness | Legal System |

Members of the Public Safety Subcommittee were tasked with identifying and making recommendations to address various issues and concerns related to public safety.  The Subcommittee addressed four broad areas related to public safety, i.e., 1) Law Enforcement, 2) Emergency Services, 3) Emergency Preparedness, and 4) the Legal System.

The group set out to identify problems under each area and to recommend specific short and long term solutions.  Common across all topic areas was a lack of hard data needed to substantiate the severity of the problems.  It was suggested that the lack of record-keeping  by Hispanic origin and/or ethnicity makes it hard to convince public officials of the need to act immediately to create and implement revised policies and procedures, and various new program initiatives.

As has been stated in other sections of this report, the language barrier was identified as a major impediment when interacting with various segments of the Public Safety community.  Many Hispanics do not speak English and have a very difficult time communicating with persons representing law enforcement, emergency services, emergency preparedness and the judicial system.  Front line personnel, such as dispatchers and telecommunication workers are oftentimes not fluent in Spanish or other languages.  As a result, many services (especially emergency services) that are easily accessible to English speaking persons, are not easily obtained by non-English speaking persons.  When front line workers, those up the chain of service delivery and those needing the services are unable to communicate, once again we risk total system failure.  Persons are disengaged from basic services and when multiplied throughout the entire Public Safety arena, it has the potential for catastrophic results.  The communication problem multiplies  itself, in that it permeates the entire system beginning with the first point of contact to the last person, be it police officers, court personnel or criminal justice staff.

Language is not the only barrier.  In many cultures, there is no distinction between the police and the military.  The cultural difference can lead to serious misunderstandings.  Depending upon the country of origin, there is often a general mistrust of the police, resulting in a reluctance to report crimes and victimization.

The remainder of this report attempts to identify problems, issues and concerns by various areas, followed by specific advisory recommendations.

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Law Enforcement Issues:
  1.  Most law enforcement officers do not speak Spanish.  Therefore, they are unable to provide the Miranda Rights in Spanish.  Lack of reading proficiency, by alleged violators, of both written English and Spanish compounds the problem.
  2.  Persons being read their Miranda Rights oftentimes do not understand their rights because such rights are foreign based upon their country of origin.
  3. Ethnic profiling of Hispanic/Latino persons.
  4. Uniform Traffic Tickets do not have a block or space for identifying the ethnicity of the person cited or arrested.  This hinders attempts to gather statistical information on the race and ethnicity of traffic violators.  It also makes it harder to identify when“ethnic profiling” and “piling up of charges” are occurring.
  5. Improperly reported race and national origin information on Police Incident Reports and Victim Rights Forms.  This may hamper the accuracy of the Uniform Crime Report produced by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).  For example:
  1. Limited statistics are available concerning the Hispanic/Latino populations.  This is attributed to the lack of uniformity and accuracy in reporting information.  More information is needed concerning perpetrators of crime, victims of crime and the nature of the crime.  For example, the group felt it important to determine how many Hispanics are issued citations for driving without a valid South Carolina Driver’s License.  Additionally, how many Hispanic drivers are involved in accidents per year and how many of those drivers are driving without a valid South Carolina Driver’s License?  Such information is not readily available.   
  2. Lack of funding for law enforcement officers and personnel to take survival Spanish for emergency situations, especially in the smaller jurisdictions.  Often when courses are available, there are no funds to send personnel for the training.   
  3. Biased stereotypes against Hispanics and assumptions due to lack of understanding cultural differences.
  4. Lack of access to 911 emergency services for Spanish speakers, thus placing many of them in danger.  

    Advisory Recommendations - Law Enforcement:
  1. Law enforcement should recruit and hire qualified bilingual personnel for various law enforcement positions to ensure appropriate staff coverage and support, i.e.,  law enforcement officers, front line personnel such as dispatchers and telecommunication workers.
  2. Cultural competency and sensitivity training should be required for all public safety personnel. Additionally, strengthen the content of cultural diversity training currently being provided by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.  Require a set number of course hours related to the subject of racial and ethnic profiling.
  3.  The State should make available through the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy the following printed and recorded materials for use by law enforcement officers from across the State:
    •  Copies of the Miranda Rights and Acknowledgment of Rights Forms translated in Spanish.  Additionally,  all law enforcement officers should have available a pre-recorded version of the rights to play for persons who do not speak or understand written English, i.e.,  explaining in detail the Miranda Rights and the Acknowledgment of Rights Forms.
  1. The State should create a point of contact in the State system for persons who have questions about their legal rights.  This point of contact  would  provide general information regarding how to navigate one’s way through the public safety, judicial and criminal justice systems.  The agency would provide a 24 hour hot line to answer questions and refer people for appropriate assistance.  Staffers must be bilingual and familiar with the State’s public safety, judicial and criminal justice systems.
  2. Support legislative efforts to past a bill requiring local police departments to have on staff someone to advise all detained persons of how to obtain the services referenced in the Miranda Rights.  This service should be provided to all persons regardless of their national origin.  Examples of assistance needed includes understanding the bond hearing process, how does one obtain a bond, when to call for an attorney, etc.
  3. Support additional funding for the State Prosecution Commission efforts to retrain law enforcement officers and personnel, and victim rights advocates in the correct way to accurately complete Incident Reports and Victim Rights Forms to reflect ethnicity.
  4. Add blocks or spaces for the identification of race, sex and ethnicity of victims on Victim Rights Forms.  Add blocks or spaces for the recording of ethnicity on the Uniform Traffic Ticket forms.
  5. Support that standards be set for statewide data collection on crime.  South Carolina needs a consistent process for gathering race and ethnic information about crime victims and offenders.  Additionally, support of House Bill 3963 is strongly recommended.
  6. Support efforts to legislatively require law enforcement officers and personnel, dispatchers, victim’s advocates and first responders to take survival  Spanish courses.
  7. Develop Basic Spanish courses for law enforcement officers and  personnel, dispatchers and first responders.
  8. Assist law enforcement agencies with obtaining funds to allow them to provide appropriate training across the State.
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Emergency Services Issues:

  1. EMS and fire departments don’t all have brochures and other life saving information printed in Spanish.

  2. EMS and fire departments do not have employees that represent the diversity of the community.
  3. EMS and fire departments lack Spanish speaking first responders.

  4. Fire departments across the State are not consistently making fire safety and child safety literature and community lectures available in Spanish.

Advisory Recommendation - Emergency Services:

  1. That the State of South Carolina should develop and make available to EMS and fire departments, printed safety information for distribution at the local level, in various languages, based upon the nationalities represented in the community.

  2. That the State should require state agencies to provide brochures, pamphlets and other information to community based organizations that serve the Hispanic/Latino population. 

  3. Current employees should be trained to speak survival Spanish, and state agencies should recruit and hire more qualified bilingual employees.

  4. EMS and fire departments should be required to provide survival Spanish and Cultural Diversity Training.

  5. Provide community workshops in Spanish to include topics related to fire safety, smoke detectors, seat belts and child restraints.
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Emergency Preparedness Issues:

1.   Lack of information in Spanish during a natural disaster or other public safety emergency, i.e., tornado, chemical explosions or spills, etc.

Advisory Recommendations - Emergency Preparedness:

  1. That the State Office of Emergency Preparedness be required to provide information to the local offices of Emergency Preparedness in Spanish for further distribution at the local level in Spanish.  Additionally, it is recommended that the State Office of Emergency Preparedness contact both Univision and Telemundo in Miami, Florida to broadcast information on satellite televison.   

  2. That local offices of Emergency Preparedness have at least one qualified bilingual person on the team to coordinate, translate and provide information in Spanish to  the local Hispanic/Latino community.  

  3. Emergency advisement programs on television should add a small caption in Spanish under the present warning alarm system indicating potentially dangerous weather conditions such as tornadoes and hurricanes or other natural disasters.

  4. The State should develop a contract with several radio stations from across the State to insure complete coverage area for emergency notification in Spanish.  The station information should be made available to all Catholic Churches, the Red Cross and organizations serving the Hispanic/Latino community.  

  5. Listing telephone numbers with the media during emergencies where Spanish only speaking persons can call to receive information, such as the location of shelters, evacuation routes, etc.

  6. Bilingual interpreters should be recruited and put on stand-by to make public service announcements in Spanish on television and radio.

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Legal System Issues:  

  1. Interpreting from English to Spanish is a special skill and merely because a person is bilingual in English and Spanish does not necessarily mean that he or she is qualified to interpret.

  2. The state has no program to certify and/or determine the qualifications of  interpreters used in the state courts.

  3. There is no registry of approved interpreters available to all state courts throughout the State.

  4. Courts do not require that certified and/or qualified interpreters be available for non-English speaking parties or witnesses.

  5. Many Hispanics are unaware of legal requirements and rights relating to issues, such as housing, education, health, victim’s rights, immigration, and civil rights.

  6. Many Hispanics do not have access to the services of lawyers and are not aware of their right to a court-appointed attorney in a criminal proceeding.

  7.  Hispanics are often denied their legal and civil rights, although the courts have recognized that a person, who has “ties with the community” is entitled to the  same treatment as a US citizen.  See US vs. René Martin-Urquidez.  494 US 1092 (1960)
Advisory Recommendations - Legal System:
  1. The Division of Court Administration should select a qualified office, such as the Spanish Department of one of the colleges or universities in the State, to develop  standards for certification and qualification of interpreters.

  2. The Division of Court Administration of the Supreme Court should establish a  registry (database) of interpreters, indicating whether they are certified and/or qualified and make it available to courts throughout the State.

  3. Courts should be required to provide interpreters for non-English speaking parties and witnesses in criminal and civil proceedings.  
  4. The State should identify an office to be responsible for coordinating a series of workshops to educate Hispanics on requirements and rights regarding the following topics:  housing, education, health, victim’s rights, immigration, and civil rights.

  5. Materials should be translated and provided for distribution in the Hispanic community regarding the topics listed in 4 above.

  6. The South Carolina Bar should be encouraged to maintain a list of attorneys who are Hispanic or Spanish-speaking and make this list available for distribution in the Hispanic community.

  7. Public defender offices should hire qualified bilingual staff as the diversity of the  community determines the need.

  8. Government employees who serve the public should be directed to provide the same treatment to Hispanics as they provide their other clients.

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