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Franklin County Sheriff's Office Does Less Than Neighboring Clark County For Its Hispanic Residents

Two counties to the west of Columbus sheriff's office workers are taking steps to better communicate with their Hispanic residents. Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly's staff have a Spanish translation booklet and they're learning how to use a high-tech translation device, the Phraselator P2. In addition, more than a dozen deputies, dispatchers and the sheriff are attending a Spanish class twice a week paid for by the sheriff's office. All of this, Kelly said, to better serve residents of the county.

"So if someone calls at least we can respond, policia, bomberos, abelencia. You know, what do you need? And then we get there. I think we're making real progress," Kelly said.

Clark County's Hispanic population is small, estimated at about 1,900. But Ohio State University researchers estimate 31,000 Hispanics live in Franklin County. And they say that number of has tripled in the last 15 years. Even though Franklin County has forty percent more Hispanics than Clark County, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office offers less Spanish language training than Clark County. Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes.

"Some of our officers have taken Spanish courses on their own, it's not required and I can't force them to do it. Uh, and I can't really, uh, phase things to one particular nationality. We have so many different nationalities here in Franklin County because of Ohio State University," Karnes said.

Karnes said the office has a couple of its own translators and it will also contact OSU to assist them in locating a translator if needed.

Karnes said his office is not using the Phraselator P2, a hand held device that can translate words and phrases used by law enforcement officials into many different languages including Spanish. While Karnes said he was not very familiar with the device, he said he was not sure if a Phraselator would be beneficial to his office.

"We're in a little bit different situation than what they are in Clark County, as far as the population goes and the areas in which we need to travel. And the amount of officers that we have on the street as compared to what they have," Karnes said.

But executive director of the Ohio Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs Ezra Escadero, said the Phraselator could be beneficial for Franklin County deputies and Spanish speaking residents.

"It's an invaluable tool that's necessary to help improve communications. And when you look at the fact that Franklin County has catapulted to be the second largest county in the state in terms of Hispanic population, that's just a phenomenal growth rate. We can definitely see a larger population that's continuing to grow at high rates, a community that definitely needs the assistance," Escadero said.

The Phraselators cost about $2,300 a piece. Clark County used state grant money and county funds to buy them. And Karnes said the office would have to buy a lot of them to make them effective.

"One machine assigned to one person to run around all over the county sometimes sounds great, but sometimes it's not handy from the standpoint with the amount of calls that we receive. To be able to keep that person available to run around all over the county with this particular piece of equipment. And once again it would have a lot to do with the cost of the equipment and where we get the money to buy it is the other issue," Karnes said.

The Columbus Division of Police does not use the Phraselator either. But CDP spokesperson, Betty Schwab, said several officers are fluent in different languages including Spanish. Schwab added that patrol officers also have a guide that offers different languages and phrases such as stand by, we have an interpreter on the way. The Miranda Rights have also been translated in Spanish so Hispanic residents can read them if they are arrested.

Escadero said neither law enforcement officers nor Hispanic residents are solely to blame for the language barrier.

"I want to make sure that we understand that responsibility belongs to a number of different folks. And every step that each group of people or each agency can take to improve communication that's a step that benefits us all," Escadero said.