- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - As Wichita’s Hispanic population continues to swell, the city’s police department is looking for ways to increase the number of Spanish-speaking officers to its force, but recent recruiting numbers indicate major changes probably won’t be coming soon.

Hispanics outnumber African-Americans in Wichita and now account for 15 percent of the city’s population, according to the 2010 census.

But only about 7 percent - 45 out of the Police Department’s 602 employees - are Hispanic, and only about 20 of them speak Spanish.

A recent incident illustrates how valuable Spanish-speaking officers can be in the city, The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/12jYy08 ) reported. In that case, a suspect kept refusing to answer questions, insisting in Spanish that he didn’t know English.

That changed when officer Erik Guzman showed up and started talking to the man in Spanish.

He realized, “Oh, I’m not going to be able to play this ‘I don’t understand’ game,” Guzman said. “By the time we were done, he was speaking fluent English.”

Police Capt. Jose Salcido cited distrust of police by some residents of the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson as an example of what can happen when the police force doesn’t reflect the population demographically. The disparity isn’t as profound in Wichita, but “we have a long ways to go,” he said.

Of the 22 new police officers who graduated in late November from the training academy, only one is Hispanic and none speaks Spanish, Lt. Heather Bachman said.

The next class of police cadets starts in early January and has just two Hispanic recruits, said Capt. Brent Allred, who recently conducted a meeting to look for ways to recruit more minorities.

Officers in Jose Navarro, who says he is called all over town and to some outlying communities to serve as a translator, sees the expanded recruitment effort as good news.

“I know there’s a need for it,” Navarro said. “I see it at work.”

Residents who speak only Spanish often are so relieved when an officer arrives who can converse with them that they start spilling information so fast the officer can’t keep up, Guzman said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com


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