Should Oregon police issue commands in Spanish when facing a suspect at gunpoint?

Article author: 
Laura Gunderson
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Article date: 
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
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Three McMinnville police officers faced off with Juventino Bermudez-Arenas as he held the large blade he'd just used to kill a 20-year-old Linfield College student.

Officers pulled their guns. One, who spoke Spanish, reached for her Taser but dropped it and grabbed her pistol as Bermudez-Arenas lowered his head and his hands and appeared to move forward.

Seconds before they fatally shot the 33-year-old Mexican man, police yelled, "Get on the ground," and, "Drop the knife," again and again.

They yelled their commands in English, the dominant language in the U.S...

Police agencies nationwide have worked over the past 20 years to improve how they work with victims and suspects who understand limited English. Departments have taught officers basic language and culture courses, distribute pocket-size phrase books and provide plasticized cards with Miranda rights translated.

But few have woven bilingual commands into tactical training for encounters such as what the McMinnville officers faced...

Some law enforcement officials bristle at the idea that officers fall short if they don't use bilingual commands. They say many incidents – such as the Nov. 15 shooting of Bermuduz-Arenas – happen too quickly and officers must rely on training.

"People don't come with tags around their necks saying 'I speak this,' or 'I speak that,'" said Capt. Dennis Marks of the McMinnville Police ...

Marks said his department has had Spanish language training in the past, some successful and some not...

"As an officer," he said, "I've been in situations where you give (non-English speakers) commands and they respond, whether that's putting their hands up or getting on the ground."

But that's not enough, some law enforcement and researchers say, when it comes to both protecting the public and officers themselves.

"Law enforcement doesn't have the luxury of assuming that everyone is totally healthy and with it," she said, "and understands what is meant by showing a gun or acting something out."

Cadets in the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Police Academy learn 27 commands in Spanish during their five-month training course. As part of their final exam, cadets must defuse a series of situations, ranging from a missing-child call to a high-risk car stop, using only Spanish commands.

Some law enforcement agencies say it's dangerous to have police who speak only a little Spanish, leaving a suspect or crime victim thinking they're working with a fluent officer. But Officer Jesse Guardiola, who created the program in Tulsa, doesn't agree...

He says his officers learn how to say they only know limited Spanish. But ultimately, he added, the training is intended so officers can do everything possible to achieve a good outcome in the stressful seconds of a potentially life-and-death call.

Or take towns with large numbers of residents who speak different languages, such as Woodburn, home to both large Spanish and Russian communities.

"There's an expectation today that a law enforcement officer is a Swiss Army knife," Gabliks said. "They're supposed to be able to respond to any incident at anytime with all tools available that anybody else has."

That's not realistic, he added, pointing out how some remote rural communities have no local police at all.

"It doesn't mean that our law enforcement wouldn't like to have those tools or that training," he said. "They're just not available to them."...

Spanish arrest commands

The National Institute of Justice offers training for police on basic arrest commands in Spanish.


¡Alto! (¡AHL-toh!)

Don't move!

¡No se mueva! (¡noh seh MWEH-vah!)

Drop it!

¡Suéltelo! (¡SWEHL-teh-loh!)

Hands up!

¡Manos arriba! (¡MAH-nohs ahr-REE-bah!)

Be quiet!

¡Silencio! (¡see-LEHN-see-oh!)

Show me!

¡Enséñeme! (¡ehn-SEHN-nyeh-meh!)

Answer me!

¡Contésteme! (¡kohn-TEHS-teh-meh!)

Stop or I'll shoot!

¡Pare o disparo! (¡PAH-reh oh dees-PAH-roh!)...