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Durham Police Department wants more Spanish-speaking officers. Could a salary bump help?

A Durham police cruiser.
pdpolicecars
/
via Flickr
This 2019 file photo shows a parked Durham Dodge Charger police cruiser.

Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews says newly-approved police pay raises will help her department prioritize hiring more bilingual officers.

Latino community advocates expressed optimism regarding the pay bumps for sworn fire and police employees approved in Tuesday's budget by the City Council.

The police chief met recently with the North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations to reaffirm a previous commitment to bring more officers who can better serve the more than 40,000 residents who are Latino. Members of Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods were also part of that meeting.

Nearly 12% of Durham residents reported speaking Spanish at home, according to the most recent U.S. Census American Communities Survey data.

"We're specifically hoping to really attract and recruit Spanish-speaking officers," Andrews said in an interview with WUNC. "I definitely feel like we are in a in a good position with the salary increase."

Starting salaries for police got a 22.5% increase to $51,379, placing Durham above several other local Triangle police departments in terms of salary.

Just 20 officers, or about 5% of the sworn police force, are bilingual in Spanish, a Durham police spokesperson confirmed — a lower number than in previous years.

"We recognize the need for bilingual officers, a diverse police force, so that when the Latino community feels a need for security, they can feel that they are being served," said Father Hugh Macsherry of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, whose congregation has a Hispanic majority.

The church is a member of the NCCLO, which has pressured Durham police for years to address the Latino community's needs.

In 2022, the group played a key role in the City Council's decision to approve a $2,000 salary bonus for city employees who prove to be bilingual in Spanish and use it in their jobs.

But the police department is already facing an overall staffing deficit with about a quarter of officer positions vacant.

"I've had to make some tough decisions about staffing and where my staff is best suited for our community's needs," Andrews said.

One of those decisions was vacating the department's Hispanic Liaison Officer position to promote that officer to investigating crimes affecting the Latino community.

The Hispanic Liaison Officer is tasked with coordinating outreach to residents and bridging gaps in communication. Andrews said she hopes to fill that position and other specialized units next year with more recruiting.

"We've been listening to our Latino community, holding listening sessions with over 600 of our people in their community in Durham ... trying to facilitate a relationship where in the Latino community feels like it can go to the police when it has problems," Macsherry said.

The police chief has agreed to meet with the NCCLO quarterly to hear their concerns.

The NCCLO says it has previously fielded hundreds of complaints from the members of different Latino groups it represents across the state. Residents reported feeling ignored, looked down upon by police for not speaking English well, or neglecting to call 911 due to a lack of Spanish speakers at emergency call centers.

Aaron Sánchez-Guerra covers issues of race, class, and communities for WUNC.
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