Special Report: The Need for More Spanish-Speaking Officers in Little Rock

Special Report: The Need for More Spanish-Speaking Officers in Little Rock

In a special report, Susanne Brunner investigates how five officers are using their Spanish speaking skills to solve crime in a Hispanic community of 30,000.
The officers that we have don't fill the need.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Officers undergo hours of training in order to serve and protect, but knowing how to speak Spanish is a plus. In fact, it's a huge need for the Little Rock Police force as the Spanish-speaking community continues to grow.

FOX 16's Susanne Brunner rode along with Officer Jacob Tobler, one of Little Rock Police Department's five Spanish-speaking officers, to get a closer look at the how he's helping break the language barrier to solve more crimes.

Tobler learned how to speak Spanish in high school and while serving a mission in Madrid, Spain, for his church. He said this second language is beneficial for his job, especially when there are only four others who can help him communicate with a Hispanic community of about 30,000 people.

"The officers that we have don't fill the need," Tobler said.

Filling the need is a challenge, but the police department continues to search for qualified officers.

"The more Spanish-speaking officers we have, the more comfortable they'll feel with us, the more they'll trust us," Tobler said.

Tobler believes it will also encourage more Spanish speakers to call police and report crimes. However, many still fear they will get in trouble and face deportation.

"They don't always trust the government or police because of the situations in their home countries," Tobler said.

Now he wants to change that and make the department's presence known, and stress the fact they have people on the force who can communicate with them.

One woman who manages a property in one Little Rock Spanish-speaking community says there's been a number of people reporting break-ins. Dulce Reyes, one of the few in the neighborhood who can speak English, says it's calling attention for more Spanish-speaking officers so that they can effectively report these issues.

"A lot of people don't call police, and they said, "Well, we can't communicate with them so what's the point of calling them," Reyes said.

So when there's a problem, residents call her.

"They can ask for more police officers and more patrols, and I think that will solve a lot of the problems," Reyes said.

Turns out other residents in her neighborhood agree.

"I would like to get some programs in place where we could have community meetings and neighborhood patrols and or citizens police programs for Spanish speakers," Tobler said.

Neighbors are open to the idea of getting involved and building that trust.

"It also gives us better ability to be able to investigate crimes and report on the calls that we actually get," Tobler said.

While the department is taking steps to find qualified Spanish-speaking officers, Tobler knows both sides are making strides and headed the right direction.

The Little Rock Police Department is actively looking for police officers who can speak Spanish. If you're interested or know anyone who is qualified to do the job, you can contact the police department.
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