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Clark County Sheriff's Office Learns Spanish

Diana Williams waits for her items to be rung up at La Guadalupana, a small Hispanic grocery store and movie rental in New Carlisle.

Williams, who speaks English well, makes small talk in her native language with the cashier, Maria Maldonado, who does not speak English.

Williams owns a restaurant with her husband and knows all too well the communication problems Clark County Hispanics face when they need urgent help. Williams said she sometimes acts as an interpreter for her employees if they need medical attention. But she said she can't always be there which often deters them from seeking care.

"Sometimes they don't want to go to the hospital because nobody can understand them. It must be really frustrating for them, too. It is. It is," Williams said.

The Clark County Sheriff's Office is attempting to bring an end to situations like the one Williams described. Sheriff Gene Kelly purchased four Phraselator P2's. The hand-held device can translate English phrases into more than 50 different languages. The ones Kelly's staff will be using can translate into Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese Mandarin and others. And they are programmed with phrases used by dispatchers and police officers.

Deputy Sheriff, Andy Biggert, is just learning to use the Phraselator. Biggert thinks the device will create a more trusting relationship between local Hispanics and law enforcement.

"It's just trying to communicate with them, putting them at ease when I go on a call. Just explaining to them that I am here to help you I'm not here to hurt you. Have you had problems with communicating with folks? A lot of problems, a lot of problems," Biggert said.

Biggert, who is using the device for the first time, scrolls down through an extensive list of phrases on a touch screen.

"You explain to them that you will have an interpreter. [Spanish sentence] The machine only works from my language to yours. [Spanish sentence]."

The Phraselator can assist in arrests, traffic violations and field sobriety tests. It even has questions and phrases for medical emergencies and domestic violence. Biggert said it also translates the Miranda Rights.

The Phraselators are expensive at $2,300 a piece. Sheriff Kelly used a combination of state grant money and county funds to cover the cost.

Diana Williams said she heard about the devices on the news and praises the sheriff's office for buying them.

"It's really good, because like they say in case it's an emergency or any accident or something like that they'll be able to understand the people if they are hurt,"Williams said.

The sheriff's office isn't stopping at the Phraselator. Eighteen of the sheriff's staff are taking a Spanish class twice a week. The class, which began in January, will run through the middle of February.

The Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Dayton, Mark Ensalaco teaches the class. Ensalaco said he sees a great desire among his students to learn Spanish.

"Just that gesture of being able to say things is going to create trust. Or to have the dispatchers be able to just pick up a few words of someone who's in distress because there's been a crime or there's a fire or something like this. Really is going to create, build confidence in the community and just break down barriers," Ensalaco said.

This is dispatcher Teresa Cashin's first time taking a Spanish class. And Cashin said it's been quite an experience.

"I've learned a lot here. I wouldn't say that I have it all yet but it's enlightening," Cashin said.

Cashin said she hopes this class will ultimately help her get more information from Spanish-speaking people when they call the sheriff's office.

Sheriff Kelly said the class has brought his staff closer together. He said they quiz each other throughout the day. Kelly said learning a foreign language has been difficult for him and his staff, but he said it has been worthwhile.

"Our whole goal is not to become fluent in Spanish but to at least allow us to better communicate so we can better serve," Kelly said.