Office of Citizen Complaints

Policy Recommendations

SUBJECT: Provision of Translators

The Office of Citizen Complaints recommends that the San Francisco Police Department create a General Order that requires officers to request a qualified language translator when

(1) a civilian requests a translator or
(2) the officer is unable to provide services due to a language barrier.

It is also recommended that the Department work with service providers to develop techniques to improve response time in providing translators.

Currently officers encountering a language barrier may contact the Communications Unit, Operations Center or ATT's 911 foreign language translation service to request a translator. However, officers have no protocols or guidelines to consult to determine which situations require a translator.

Two recent cases support these recommendations:

The complainant entered a district station to report an assault perpetrated by a civilian. Complainant's request for a Spanish language translator was denied based on the responding officer's assessment that the complainant spoke rudimentary English.

The complainant, a victim of an auto theft, was unable to receive an administrative fee waiver due to lack of intervention by a translator. During the investigatory interview the officer stated that he did not request a translator because he believed the response time would have interrupted unit operations.

Case Investigated by: HELEN GARZA and MARK SCAFIDI, Investigator
Prepared by: RIVER GINCHILD ABEJE, Policy and Outreach Specialist
Approved by: MARY C. DUNLAP, Director
Date: June 17, 1999

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