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Report says Nassau County fails to provide help for non-English speaking people who called police

Ciorra Photography

Volunteer testers who called Nassau County police precincts and headquarters and spoke only Spanish, received help about 50% of the time, according to a new report by advocacy groups the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition and the New York Immigration Coalition.

A team of seven volunteers made 94 phone calls in Spanish to all of Nassau’s precincts and headquarters for the study. More than a third of the callers were disconnected and another 16% were intentionally hung up on, according to the report.

“Language access saves lives. It is very important for the community to receive equal treatment,” Ivan Larios, an organizer with the New York Immigration Coalition, said. “They could lose their lives in cases of domestic violence."

Neither the police department or the Nassau County executive's office returned multiple calls seeking comment on the report. Federal laws require police to assist non-English speakers. Following a 2013 agreement with the New York attorney general, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano signed two executive orders requiring county agencies to follow best practices with language access.

Nassau is home to roughly 160,000 people born in Latin America who speak Spanish at home and almost 100,000 people born in Asia who speak mostly Korean or Mandarin.

For at least a decade, the police department has been using LanguageLine, a service that connects officers to live translators through a phone app. However, advocates said police usage of the service was never great. During the state-mandated police reform process, Spanish speakers frequentlycomplained about lack of access to police in their native language.

In January of this year, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told the Legislature that in 2021 police made 8,964 calls to LanguageLine, most of them were for Spanish interpretation.

In the same meeting with lawmakers, Ryder said he had met with the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition about their concerns.

“There’s work to be done to make it better,” Ryder told the legislature. “We’re moving in the same direction, going to the same goal. So everything's been working well”

Advocates with the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition had a much different takeaway from that meeting.

According to Cheryl Keshner's with the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, Ryder was told about several cases in which domestic violence victims sought police help but were turned away because they didn’t speak English. Keshner said nothing ever came of the meeting.

“There were certain changes that it sounded like they were going to make,” Keshner said. “But honestly, they have not responded to our requests to meet since then.”

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.