911 call shows language barrier

Posted at 10:17 PM, Feb 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-02 08:19:46-05
Dispatchers struggled to understand a caller who reported Sunday's stabbing in Immokalee, where a deputy shot and killed a man wielding a knife.  Investigators say the suspect stabbed another person during an altercation.
"Do you speak Spanish?," asked the dispatcher.  "Yes," the caller replied.
Shortly afterwards he hung up.  The dispatcher called him back, but more confusion ensued.
"Hello, 911, do you speak English or Spanish?," the dispatcher asks.  "Uh, English," replied the man.
But he clearly spoke Spanish, and both parties were again disconnected.  That's when the operator used a language line to connect with an interpreter.  The Collier County Sheriff's Office says it's standard procedure when there are no Spanish speaking dispatchers available.
In the end, both the interpreter and dispatcher lost the connection.  The sheriff's office says they don't know why the man hung up.
"They need to have people on staff that speak Spanish," says Kathy Card, state coordinator of the Florida Language Access Coalition.
She says agencies that receive federal funding or any kind of federal assistance must provide interpreters 24 hours a day.  She says agencies that don't comply may be violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  In this case, precious time was lost.  "They weren't able to provide communication in a timely manner."
The Collier County Sheriff's Office disputes that claim.  A spokesperson said via email dispatchers used the department's newly launched Community Aided Dispatch system to track the man's cell phone and send help to the general area.  The process took only "11 seconds," according to the email.
Asked if the sheriff's office needed more bilingual dispatchers, the spokesperson said it would be "helpful" if Spanish speaking dispatchers applied.