Instead they talked to Mary Boyd, a bilingual woman of Mexican descent who ran a store catering to Hispanics. It was Boyd who helped detectives identify a murder suspect in the August 2003 killing. Warner Robins Police said they’d never have cracked the case without a Spanish speaker who could talk comfortably with immigrants who fear American police.
Across Georgia, where the Hispanic population jumped more than 300 percent in the ’90s, police are scrambling for more Spanish speakers. There’s a long waiting list for the “Survival Spanish” class at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth.
Officers get enough Spanish to get the job done, said instructor Carlos Ortiz, the son of Cuban immigrants.
The Survival Spanish class teaches a number of useful phrases, then pits officers with Spanish-speaking actors in role-playing. The course also teaches officers how to render aid and assist victims.
In the mock village on the training center campus, students gathered earlier this year for a law-enforcement language lesson in reality.
Cochran police officer Andrew Lemmon held a clipboard full of Spanish phrases in one hand and a police radio mouthpiece in the other.
In this exercise, Lemmon had pulled Ortiz over and had to conduct the entire traffic stop in Spanish.
As he hesitantly spoke into the public address system, Ortiz told him to take his time.
“What’s the nonverbal gesture to get me to turn around?” Ortiz asked. “Remember 65 percent of communication is with the non-spoken word.”
Lemmon has been a member of the Cochran police force for more than 25 years. He finds the language barrier challenging.
“I remember a time even 10 years ago when you didn’t see any Hispanics in Cochran at all,” he said. “It’s good to have that verbal communication because a lot of times they really don’t understand the English language and you just have to adapt and help them understand.