Breaking down language barriers with cultural understanding - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Breaking down language barriers with cultural understanding

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) -- Aside from the typical challenges of a police investigation, often times, area law enforcement agencies also face a language barrier at the crime scene.

Siouxland is becoming more diverse all the time, with a significant Latino population, and with more Vietnamese, Laotian and Somalian people moving in. When it comes to solving a crime, differences in language present another challenge, but both police and minorities say it can be alleviated by understanding.

Siouxland Unidad Latina President Norma De La O says, "Right now we have so many different groups in Siouxland."

And sometimes when dealing with police officers, both sides can get lost in translation.

Sioux City Police Officer Jeremy McClure says, "We have quite a few that can speak a limited amount of Spanish, enough to get through a traffic stop. We have maybe less than ten that speak Spanish fluently."

But more important than just speaking the language, McClure says, is understanding the culture.

McClure says, "We try to accommodate certain cultures up to a point. If they violate the law, we try to educate them, help them understand what the law is in America and Iowa."

Norma De La O says treatment of authority, like law enforcement, differs throughout countries, and that there's a learning curve for anyone moving to a new place

"Just because they don't look you straight in the eye doesn't mean they're lying. It could be a sign of reverence for someone," De La O said.

De La O says it's important for law enforcement to gain an understanding of new Siouxlanders, especially in times of emergency, when an interpreter isn't immediately available.

"I know it's very hard for the police and sometimes in order to get that confession or to get the story straight, they need to do it right now and right then," De La O said.

"The biggest thing we want to see though, is that someone fully understands their rights, that we get their story and fully understand it," McClure said.

It's a learning process that goes both ways.

"We need to know what are the rules we need to follow in this community in order to be part of the community," De La O said.

De La O says local police have a good understanding of Latinos in the community, but other newer minority groups to the area need more assistance.

She says by eating at their restaurants, going to their festivals and just asking them about their way of life breaks down more than a language barrier, it breaks down a culture barrier.

Online Reporter: Zach Tecklenburg

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