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Should Police Officers be required to learn sign and be bilingual?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/26/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,139 times Debate No: 46841
Debate Rounds (4)
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Take for instance Chinatown, a police officer in that sector could better provide service and gain information. We have a great diversity in America, and it definitely helps plenty to know and communicate to those who actually speak the language. This is one of the reforms I suggest, as a nation, that we should take.


While I do agree that a police officer that can access a broader portion of the population is very useful, I disagree that they should be required to learn any language for their position. I'll be addressing language equality, feasibility, and ability of the police force to prove this. Let's debate!
Debate Round No. 1


Before, I begin my argument, its important that you fully read this article for this debate to get really interesting.

Such police officers, even with far and beyond police training, fail to address and assess the sitation, and instead resort to brute force. According to NBC news, police departments across the country are already starting to push for such a reform.
As they say, the investment could eventually pay off, and police officers could better serve their individual communities.

"To fight crime you have to communicate" -Susan Shan at Vera Institute of Justice


I have read the article.

As an individual who is fully fluent in ASL (I have a deaf relative), I see the problems that arise when officers are not aware of how to respond to situations like this. This does not call for officers to LEARN a language such as sign language, it simply calls for better training for awareness of a situation. These officers acted too quickly, without assessing the situation adequately. This requires sensitivity training, not learning a completely different language; the reason the officers assaulted this individual is because they did not know the individual was deaf. Granted, the reaction was excessive and the officers should be punished for that. Even if the officers had learned sign language and could communicate, they would have pinned the man's hands behind his back before realizing the man is deaf and attempting to communicate; the struggle would have ensued as a result anyway. I am in no way condoning the officers' subsequent actions, but sensitivity and conduct training addresses this problem more effectively than learning ASL does. If you are arguing that sensitivity training should increase, I agree; I disagree with your argument that a full language must be learned. You say that officers should be bilingual, but there is no way to ensure that the second language is ASL, and therefore the officer responding to a call is not guaranteed to be fluent in the necessary language; to find out the language that is needed before choosing a specific officer to respond wastes precious time in emergency situations.

I'll go ahead and address the three points (language equality, feasibility, and ability) in the next rounds. :D
Debate Round No. 2


Yes, I would have to agree with you. Perhaps I should have made my position clear? Rather than a general officer, I'm talking about officers who provide service in an immigrant community, where the 30, 40 or even 65 percent of the community speaks that language. e.g. Chinatown

I can see why you would argue sensitivity. Again, I guess I should have been more clear. I did not mean to directly say that officers should learn AN ENTIRE LANGUAGE. That would be a waste of resources. But, rather, know it enough to assess the sitation. Partly, sensitivity is part of my argument, but the bulk of it is focused towards what i've mentioned earlier. This also solves the issue with miscommunication. A police officer might make wrong record statements, based on a misinterpretation of what the witness might have said. Even a simple term can impose a different meaning. This would mean false evidence in court, and the possiblity that the wrong person prosecuted.

However, I would have to agree with you in that in a call of emergency, there is no guarantee an officer might be fluent in the neccesary language. Point made, in the long run, such a reform could be beneficial. Some one who speaks the language has a much better face-to-face interaction with the citizens of that sector, and puts more value to better serving the community.


Thanks for the clarification.

Since we're now on the same page, I'd like to direct you to the NYPD's website and page regarding their use of diverse languages:

If you're not already aware of this, there has been a major shift in police policy regarding foreign language use by officers since the turn of the century; as the NYPD page shows, more than 75 languages are spoken in the city's police force, with a surprising number of officers being bilingual. It is even stated that police officers are stationed in areas in which their second language would be the most useful. If it is ever the case that an officer is unable to communicate with a citizen, almost every officer in every department in every major city has the direct line to a police translator, who can interpret and facilitate a conversation (and, of course, this call is recorded for proof in court to clarify record statements and avoid false evidence in court, if it comes to that); language assistance has been a staple in the police force since immigration to the United States began. So, to address your concern, these measures have already been put into action; it will take a good deal more time for the system to perfect itself so we can avoid unfortunate misinterpretation incidents in the future.

I do agree that communications with deaf or mute persons is a degree of difficulty above spoken language, but the current trend shows that this will be addressed soon. Considering our country's population, it's natural to assume that police forces nationwide have already received plenty of complaints regarding miscommunication; in order to stay relevant and to do its job properly, the police programs everywhere are adapting to this. Even my tiny hometown's police force has officers fluent in nearly 20 languages - this shows that departments are recognizing the need for understanding.

Assessing the situation is an important tool for an officer; however, assessing a situation is more based on an officer's visual and sensory understanding of the situation, and is less so based on witness-to-officer communication (that often comes in much later). Therefore, a language barrier may come in later on in the process when officers have more time to respond and record details of an event. Even if an immediate response that requires language understanding is needed, more and more officers these days are carrying devices that connect to a police "Language Line" that can respond just as quickly as a 911 dispatcher can. Other than that, there's not much an agency can do to ensure the best possible communication, except perhaps a quick-reference handbook for the most-spoken languages in their precinct.

I definitely agree with the sentiment behind your position, however; I simply argue that there's only so much a department can do within its means to serve its community when a significant language barrier exists.
Debate Round No. 3


You have argued far well than I would have expected. No, perhaps I may have set apart the fact that such a reform is already under way in many places, I apologize. My argument was very well intended toward citites who have not yet taken this step, and are reluctatant too. While I agree what what your arguing, I only wish to see this progress move faster. I can well understand that certain cities don't have the neccesary budget, but that's a different argument. But, more on a personal note, if we take for instance they do have the budjet, and by few obstacles, I don't see why not?

As far as I can see I think the carelessly placed word "required" really strengthens your arguments. I guess you must have seen it in a different persepctive than i did. Perhaps a revised question of the matter would have been more helpful. But, to contend, I think some people just need a more convincing opinion. Overall, I would just like police departments not to just overlook the sitation at hand.


I agree with you that reforms need to take place in smaller cities that still have foreign language speakers. However, on the whole, those who speak a language other than English reside in big cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc., all of which are cities that have the means (or at least have a plan) to facilitate communications between themselves and people who speak different languages. But in these small cities, the small need doesn't outweigh the cost required to implement such programs; from a monetary standpoint, a foreign language program can only be useful if there is a significant population that the police can interact with (such as in NYC), so pouring money into a program in a city of 5,000 people may not be as useful. Ideally, these programs should exist everywhere. But we should still remember that these officers in small cities can get in contact with language translators in nearby departments if necessary.

The intentions that you have are great, except to create an impact on the scale that you want is an impossibility. Police departments simply do not have enough money to make this change happen quickly. I do believe that police are aware of the situation at hand, but I'd give it a few more years for us to see the impact that you would like to see. But every time one of these stories of miscommunication leading to harassment (like the one you posted) goes public, police stations buckle down even tighter to make sure these events don't happen again. All in all, we're on a good path in this regard!
Debate Round No. 4
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1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by GarretKadeDupre 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Con showed Pro's goal to be impractical, and also that his main evidence (the story) didn't support his case as well as he had hoped. Plus, Pro sort of conceded at the end. Good debate.