Officers to break barriers by learning Spanish Police try to meet needs of Hispanic community

November 07, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

To bridge a cultural gap between Baltimore police and the city's growing Hispanic population, officers in one district were given booklets yesterday to help them learn basic Spanish.

Called "Speedy Spanish for Police Personnel," the small packet offers translations for everything from a routine traffic stop to domestic disputes to dealing with crowd control. It also translates the Miranda warning.

"It is difficult for us to get the information we need to be effective," said Maj. John E. Gavrilis, commander of the Southeastern District, where several Hispanic groups have settled. "Sometimes, that language barrier is interpreted as being insensitive."

Just how many Latinos live in East Baltimore is in dispute. The 1990 census counted 7,602 people who identified themselves as Hispanic in the city, but the same census -- based on a more intensive sample of households -- reported that 12,127 people over 5 years old lived in homes where Spanish was the primary language.

Community advocates estimate that between 12,000 and 20,000 Hispanics live in Southeast Baltimore and are spreading out from their base in Upper Fells Point. Many have opened businesses on Broadway -- helping to revitalize the business corridor north of the tourist attraction.

"It's a growing community," said Libby Arcia, executive director of the city's first Latino community center, Centro de la Comunidad. "With a growing community, problems grow. We need to work with both sides. But that takes time."

Officials attending yesterday's morning roll call at Southeastern District, where police officers were given the language manuals donated by Baltimore-based Protective Service Enterprises, said no particular incident strained relations between police and the Hispanic community.

But Officer Rufino Garcia, one of only three Spanish-speaking officers in the district, said a "communication gap" needs to be bridged.

"When they come to this country, they have a negative opinion of police officers," Officer Garcia said. "In their country, police officers are agents of the [national] government. When they come to this country, they don't think they have any rights."

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