Wendy Garcia called 911 after she said she was assaulted. She asked for a Spanish-speaker because she spoke little English.
She was able to explain what happened to the operator, but when police arrived at her Queens home, they spoke “no Spanish, only English,” and refused to get an interpreter, she said. Garcia, frustrated and crying, couldn’t explain to them what happened, and she says they ended up taking information from her attacker instead. She was nearly arrested, she said, and nothing happened to him.
The 34-year-old from Guatemala is taking action. Along with four other Hispanic women, she has filed a federal lawsuit against the police for failing to bring Spanish interpreters following separate incidents during the past two years.
“I am afraid,” she told The Associated Press this week in Spanish. “I am afraid of retaliation, but I felt a necessity to speak out. My rights have been ignored,” she said.
At a hearing this week in Brooklyn federal court, the city said it planned to file a motion to dismiss. Paul Browne, the chief spokesman for the NYPD, described the case as meritless and that the NYPD has more foreign-language officers than any other department in the country.
Browne said the department has used a language service since the 1990s, at first for emergency calls made to 911 in foreign languages and more recently also in situations where an interpreter is needed in precincts and neighborhoods.
“In addition to having thousands of Spanish-speaking police officers on the job, the NYPD has recruited and enlisted members of the service in its volunteer translator program to assist the public and police in investigations and for other needs,” he said.
The department has more than 1,400 volunteer translators who speak a total of 64 languages, he said.
Browne said the department also works with Berlitz and Geneva language experts to test and certify officers’ language proficiency, and more than 1,100 translators are certified.
The suit, which seeks an unspecified amount of money, also asks for changes in the system.
“I have rights,” Garcia said. “One is the right to an interpreter. They should not have the right to humiliate people, Hispanics, who are undocumented.”