Spanish language classes to help Cincinnati police communicate with more citizens

CINCINNATI -- Fifteen police officers found themselves back in the classroom Tuesday night, with their books open and pencils in hand.

They have plenty of knowledge in fighting crime and ensuring safety, but the department thinks they could learn a thing or two about speaking Spanish.

Officers began the first part of a 10-week language class, taught by Su Casa, that the department feels will come in handy. Su Casa is a center in Cincinnati that provides services to the Hispanic population.

Officers responded to an accidental shooting Saturday afternoon in East Price Hill that took the life of an 8-year-old boy, Sammy Lorenzo. They experienced a language barrier during the investigation, as the child's uncle spoke no English during questioning. An interpreter was called upon to help.

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The Hispanic population has risen in the Tri-State, and the department said police officers must be able to speak Spanish, so that language barriers no longer complicate efforts.

The classes are held at the Cincinnati Police Training Academy in Price Hill. WCPO reporter Amy Wadas joined the class Tuesday evening, taught by Ivan Concepcion. Students said they hope learning a new language skill will make communication easier.

Unlike basic training, the Spanish language class is not mandatory. Officers who attend do so voluntarily. Attending class was District 3 officer Virginia Villing.

"We encounter a lot of people who need our services, who may be reluctant to approach us because of the language barrier," she said.

Concepcion's teaching style follows his plan to get officers communicating better on the streets.

"Got some exercises, team competitions too," he said. "Every week they go up to the board, got some vocabulary go over, some situations make interactive and more fun."

Officer Roberta Utecht already used her new skills while on the job in District 1.

"All that stuff I used in that traffic stop speaking to that individual was stuff that if we hadn't gone over in here, I would have been piecing it together bit by bit," she said.

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