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Nebraska Law Enforcement Behind on Language Accessibility

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Thursday, October 28, 2021   

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Not one law-enforcement agency in Nebraska is meeting all U.S. Department of Justice guidance and best practices on how to provide language access to residents with limited English proficiency, despite a wealth of available tools and resources, according to a new ACLU Nebraska report.

Rose Godinez, interim legal director for the group, said it is critical for all residents who encounter police to understand what is being said.

"We hope Nebraska law-enforcement agencies will explore these strategies and understand and address language access to ensure public safety for all, and to protect the constitutional rights for all Nebraskans," Godinez stated.

Federal law requires law-enforcement agencies receiving federal funds to ensure people with limited English proficiency have meaningful language access to services. But 12 of 19 agencies surveyed did not have instructions for their officers on how and when to access language services during interviews, interrogations or traffic stops.

ACLU Nebraska is calling on the Nebraska Crime Commission to update its 2015 language access plan to address the deficiencies. The commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Researchers found 14 of 19 law-enforcement agencies did not have any officers who had attended training on how to navigate language barriers.

Godinez emphasized once adopted, new policies also need to be publicized, so people will know that they can request interpreters or translators if they are stopped or questioned by police.

"If individuals don't see the policy, or don't see that this is available, they won't ask for it," Godinez pointed out. "Then there really isn't any meaningful language access being provided."

Census figures show nearly 5% of Nebraskans have limited English proficiency, and more than one in ten speak a language other than English at home.

Godinez noted entire communities are safer when everyone, regardless of languages spoken, feels valued and heard by those entrusted to keep us safe.

Disclosure: ACLU of Nebraska contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Immigrant Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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