DOJ settles with Pennsylvania city over language barriers to Spanish-speaking residents

DOJ settles with Pennsylvania city over language barriers to Spanish-speaking residents
© Greg Nash

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a settlement with a Pennsylvania police department after launching a civil rights investigation into potential barriers for Spanish-speaking residents.

The Hazelton Police Department will be required to update its operating procedures to include “appropriate language assistance” for non-English speakers and also print forms and notices in both English and Spanish, the DOJ said in a Tuesday statement.

The department will also assess the language skills of bilingual officers and train staff on how and when to access interpreters and translators.

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The DOJ initially launched its investigation after a resident reported having to rely on his young son and co-worker in order to communicate with police officers on two separate occasions. Hazleton’s population is about 60 percent Hispanic, according to the most recent estimates, ABC News reports.

The investigation was carried out under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which "prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal assistance," according to the DOJ.

“Timely and accurate communication between limited English proficient residents and police officers is essential to public safety,” assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Kristen ClarkeKristen ClarkeDepartment of Justice sues Georgia over voting law Watch live: Garland, Clarke hold press conference announcing voting rights action Pavlich: Biden can't ignore defund the police contributions to violent crime spike MORE said in the department's statement.

“The changes required by this agreement will benefit crime victims and witnesses, but also help police officers do their jobs,” Clarke added.

“Our office is proud to have joined with the Civil Rights Division on this important case,” acting U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler said. “Ensuring that all individuals can communicate with law enforcement officers benefits all involved and is fundamental to our democracy.”