Denver police discriminated against people who speak limited English

Officers in the Denver Police Department violated the civil rights of people who do not speak English by failing to use appropriate translation services or by not using any translation services at all, a federal investigation found.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice began in 2018 after Denverites raised concerns about officers’ interactions with residents in the East Colfax neighborhood who speak Burmese and Rohingya. On several occasions, officers used children or other family members to help translate. Sometimes police did not use any interpreters.

“As a result of these practices, DPD officers arrested limited English proficiency individuals without informing them of the charges against them in a language they could understand; used minors to provide language assistance; and relied on unqualified individuals to provide language assistance on behalf of DPD officers,” according to the investigation.

The Department of Justice on Monday agreed to a settlement with the Denver Police Department that will require police to implement new policies and training regarding translation services. The department will update its policy to prohibit the use of bystanders and family members for translation services, except in exigent circumstances.

Department leaders will also appoint a language access coordinator and improve training on interacting with people who speak languages other than English, according to the settlement.

“Denver is culturally vibrant and diverse, and as populations evolve, so must our tools and training so that we can best serve all of our community — especially limited English-proficient residents who may already be reluctant to report crime or engage with police,” Denver police Chief Ron Thomas said in an emailed statement. “We embrace this opportunity to improve language access for those we serve.”

“This agreement with the Denver Police Department will help police officers do their jobs,” First Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Kirsch said in a news release.  “Whether it’s conducting community outreach or arresting individuals accused of breaking the law, ensuring ready access to accurate language services enables officers to serve and protect all members of the community, regardless of English proficiency.”

The Department of Justice on Monday also announced the launch of the Law Enforcement Language Access Initiative, which will help law enforcement agencies provide language services.

“Providing law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to ensure effective and meaningful language access promotes and advances greater safety for limited English proficient people,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said. “Through this initiative, we will be able to share these language access best practices and similar resources with law enforcement agencies all across the country.”

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