For some VCU police officers, breaking language barriers is all in a day’s work.
Ten members of the VCU Police Department are taking a conversational Spanish-speaking course that aims to help them in their communication with the VCU area’s Spanish-speaking residents.
“I think it is great for the officers that are taking the class because it gives them the ability to communicate better with Spanish-speaking people that they may come in contact with,” police Chief John Venuti said. “Taking the course was a lot of fun, it was interesting.”
According to the 2010 Census, about 6.4 percent, or 469,303 of Virginians, speak Spanish at home. In Richmond, the 2010 Census reported 6.3 percent of the population was Hispanic, though surrounding counties, like Henrico, have experienced a large increase in their Hispanic population in the past few years. In Richmond, about 9.6 percent of people reported speaking a language other than English at home.
The class meets every Tuesday and is offered as a one-credit course through the VCU Division of Community Engagement. Anita Nadal, a Spanish professor in the School of World Studies who also works for the division, said the class is specialized for the officers in it.
“These classes are for people who already have a profession,” Nadal said. “They just need some basic phrases to better serve their profession.”
The class is taught in a manner that encourages involvement and recreating situations officers may run into on the job. Nadal said she emphasizes on role-play and conversation. She said that it is “never a class where writing on the board and paper is the focus.”
Sgt. Nicole Dailey, who took the course last spring and pushed for it to happen again this semester, said she would like to see the entire force take a course like this.
“The course is designed to give the everyday police officer a working knowledge of Spanish,” Dailey said. “The material is presented in such a way that you walk out on day one with the ability to at least say ‘Hello,’ “‘Good Afternoon’ and ‘Do you need help?’ Those sayings are almost always how we start our conversations in the police world,” Dailey said.
The program has been used several times in the past at multiple agencies. Currently, Nadal is teaching a similar course with the Richmond Fire Department. In the past she has taught the Virginia Eye Institute, Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), and the Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Dailey said she would like to see other languages pursued by the department in the school because of the diversity that exists on campus.
“As everyone knows, VCU is a very diverse environment,” Dailey said. “In order to serve the community to the best of its potential, VCUPD must make sure it has people on staff who can communicate with the faculty, student (and) staff.”
However, some officers are finding the course useful even out of police scenarios.
“I signed up to take the class because (the) lady that helps keep our building clean speaks only Spanish,” Venuti said. “I took the class so that I could communicate a little better and easier with her each day as I would ask her if she wanted a cup of coffee and how she was doing.”
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