As Erie's refugee & immigrant population grows, police turn to interpreters in emergency situations
ERIE, Pa. - A call comes over the police scanner.
“You'll want to let (UPMC) Hamot know they will need a Nepalese translator,” an officer says. “Get that ball rolling.”
Erie Police are now calling in another kind of back-up to help solve crimes: interpreters and translators.
“We've had to feel our way through it,” said Dep. Chief Mike Nolan. “We usually have someone available on-scene that's able to translate.”
Nolan keeps a list of the 50 to 60 languages his officers have encountered over the years and will need interpreters to translate whether in an emergency situation or during an investigation. To make sense of the situation, police enlist the help of those from Multicultural Community Resource Center or the International Institute of Erie, a field office for the U.S. Committee of Refugees and Immigrants.
“You are their voice, so you are just a bridge between the parties involved,” said Senada Alihodzic, program coordinator for the Institute, who oversees the office's interpreters and translators.
The Institute estimates there are 18,000-20,000 immigrants and refugees in the City of Erie, nearly 1-in-5 residents. But as Erie’s New Americans are becoming more assimilated, Nolan says officers are getting help from one particular group of that population: children.
“They get an education on the English language in a more structured environment and they're able to help us out,” he said.
Even more than the language barrier, Nolan said the department is having an issue getting refugees and immigrants to open up when a crime actually happens. So they're working with those here at the multicultural community resource center to help bridge that gap.
“The New Americans also feel that just by reporting a crime, that may somehow jeopardize their status here,” Nolan said.
With more refugees resettling in Erie every year, the Institute is educating the New American population on both the language and legal barriers.
“We all want a safe community,” said Alihodzic.