Berwyn PD to initiate Spanish lessons in 2012

The 2010 U.S. Census found that almost 60 percent of the total number of people living in Berwyn is Latino or Hispanic, but only about 7 percent of the staff of the Berwyn police is able to speak Spanish fluently. To remedy this predicament, the Berwyn police department is placing more focus on teaching officers Spanish, starting next year.

Police Chief James Ritz said Rosetta Stone, a language learning computer program, would be set up on a network of individual computers with assistance from Berwyn’s IT employees. Sergeant Joe Fitzgerald of the Berwyn police said the program has been purchased and the setup process is now on the logistics of the program.

Ritz said the police department has about 270 staff members, including communications personnel, sworn officers and non-sworn officers; about 15 to 20 of these people are fluent Spanish speakers right now.

“It’s our priority to work with full-time personnel and then we will transition to part-time personnel,” he said.

Fitzgerald said promotion of the program and keeping it running would be the next major challenge. “Helping [officers] maintain interest will be challenging since learning a new language takes a lot of patience and practice,” he said.

Although the Berwyn police department had begun to coordinate an effort to use the skills of residents of Berwyn and high school students from Fenwick’s Spanish club at the end of 2010, Fitzgerald said using the Rosetta Stone software would be more logical because of the dynamic nature of the police department. Officers who are scheduled to work with Spanish speakers at a specified time might not be able to come back to the station in time if they are out late on a call. He said including members of the community may be considered at a later date.

Ritz described the importance of having officers learn Spanish.

“It increases our professionalism towards the Hispanic culture [of Berwyn], and this will be instrumental in understanding their culture as well,” he said.

The funding for the program will come from the police department’s training budget.

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