The Justice Department outlined an effort this week to review how the NYPD deals with New Yorkers who don't speak English. The Department insists this is a "routine audit" to see if the NYPD is complying with federal civil rights laws, and is looking at whether language barriers affect things like the filing of complaints or emergency calls. The government's letter to the NYPD stated, “We want to know what the N.Y.P.D. is doing well, and what it could do better."
The New York Times reports that one possible penalty for a bad review is a reduction in federal grants, though this has not happened in the approximately 50 reviews that have been conducted since 2002. Commissioner Paul J. Browne says the NYPD is always looking for new ways to interact with foreign speakers. “I think they’ll find that we have the largest number of foreign-language speakers of any police department in the country, and perhaps the world...And I think they will also find that this capacity extends over a broad range of police activities, everything from 911 calls to the newly emerging cricket fields of New York City.” He says there are usually translators ready when a foreign speaker calls 911, and crime victims on the street can talk to someone in their native language on a "multilingual line."
However, many lawyers of non-English speakers frequently tell of NYPD interactions where there is no way to communicate, and officers mark the victims as "uncooperative" or that they "refused" to comment. Amy Taylor of Legal Services NYC said, “These are people who are being characterized as uncooperative witnesses, which can have a devastating effect on these cases." Browne said victims labeled as "uncooperative" had nothing to do with what language they were speaking, though the NYPD could definitely improve on their dealings. "We probably do this better than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean it is universal. We don’t do everything perfectly all the time.”