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NYS AG Announces Language Access Agreement With Newburgh Police

The New York State attorney general has announced an agreement with the City of Newburgh Police Department to provide greater access for residents who do not speak English.

The agreement ensures language access for one of the state’s so-called Limited English Proficient, or LEP, communities. Kristen Clarke is the Civil Rights Bureau Chief at the state attorney general’s office. She says her office received information and complaints, and heard from advocates about the problems in communicating with law enforcement in various parts of the state.

“We heard from advocates who represent domestic violence victims who told us that victims would call 9-1-1 for help and the police officers would come out and because of their inability to communicate with the victim they would turn to the alleged batterer to translate for her,” says Clarke.

Peter Gonzalez is president of Newburgh-based Latinos Unidos of the Hudson Valley, an organization that addresses quality-of-life issues affecting Latinos in the region. He says the agreement is a positive development.

“I also think it will make cooperation between the Spanish-speaking population of the City of Newburgh and the police a lot more amicable, more cooperative,” says Gonzalez.

He says he raised the following matter with representatives from the attorney general’s office.

“This at least will make it so if there’s a problem, there’s a police report that comes out, at least they’ll know what’s on the police report,” says Gonzalez. “We had someone who came into our office back in July, he was a domestic violence case. He had come in and he had had a complaint, a police complaint, and it was all in English. And he came into Latinos Unidos and wanted us to translate it.”

Again, Clarke:

“So the language access agreement will be one that helps ensure that residents across Newburgh get the help that they need going forward regardless of their ability to speak English,” says Clarke.

Chief of the Newburgh Police Department Michael Ferrara did not respond to a request for comment. Judy Kennedy is Newburgh’s mayor.

“I was 100 percent behind this agreement and behind the support to do that,” says Kennedy. “We have a very large Latino population, almost 50 percent, and so it’s all kinds of things that go on that a lot of those people really don’t know how to speak English and they need help, they need information, they need support, they need a lot of things.”

She adds:

“When our police department can speak Spanish and communicate with them it solves a lot of problems and prevents a lot of problems,” says Kennedy.

The agreement is aimed at improving the ability of officers in the Newburgh Police Department to provide interpretation and translation services. Clarke says the police department will ensure that its officers, and its civilian employees who have regular contact with the public, effectively communicate with LEP persons, including when responding to calls for assistance; making traffic stops; taking complaints; interviewing crime victims; making public service announcements, and issuing safety alerts.

The department also will take steps to recruit, hire, and retain bilingual officers and staff and translate vital documents. Clarke says Newburgh could serve as an example.

“We’re really proud to be at a place where Newburgh might stand as a model for other police departments that also need to put in work to make sure that they are prepared to serve all individuals in their communities,” says Clarke.

According to the U.S. Census, 48 percent of Newburgh residents are Latino or Hispanic, compared to about 18 percent of New Yorkers. Elsewhere in Orange County, the attorney general’s office has worked with the Middletown Police Department to strengthen language access.

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