SPD implements Voiance app to bridge language gap between community and officers

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With the approval of Syracuse Police Reform and Reinvention Plan in May 2021, the Syracuse Police Department began using the Voiance app, a mobile translation tool that aims to increase communication and accessibility between police and non-English speaking residents.

Since its implementation, SPD public information officer Lt. Matthew Malinowski said the app has been helpful to officers in their investigations and helped them communicate well with all members of the community.

In the past, when interacting with people who speak languages ​​other than English, it was difficult for the SPD to find an officer who spoke that specific language, Malinowski said.

According to United States Census Bureau, 18.6% of Syracuse residents over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home. Malinowski said Spanish and Burmese are the department’s most and second most used languages, respectively.

“We continue to diversify this community, and we try to diversify this department. But I would say that it would be very important to try to have a police officer who can speak all the languages ​​that we serve in this community. So we found (Voiance) very useful,” Malinowski said.

The department purchased the app in February 2021 and began training and deployment on how to use the app in the second quarter of 2021, according to the plan’s progress update. The update classified the implementation of the Voiance app as “completed,” stating that “the administration delivered on its commitment on police reform action and released proof of completion,” according to the report. report progress breakdown.

Danny Kahn | Design editor

The SPD held several forums to gather public input on the department’s reform and reinvention plan. The department heard feedback from community members on the plan as it was being developed in early 2021, before the Voiance app was settled and implemented.

At one of the January 2021 public hearings, community member and former county human rights director Barrie Gewanter welcomed the prospect of increased language accessibility, but said the department should do more beyond the application.

“Having an on-demand interpreting program on a phone or tablet app is great. However, this is not enough,” Gewanter said during the forum. “There also needs to be training for agents on when it is necessary to use it, how to work with an interpreter, and also how to recognize and communicate the type of interpreter you need depending not only on the country but also of the ethnic group, and also based on other dynamics such as gender.

Gewanter, who has worked with the new American community and with local Deaf and disability advocates and has expertise in Title VI and the Americans with Disabilities Act, worked with the department to create and augment policies for interpretation and translation services in the city of Syracuse, for both English speakers and people who use symbolic languages ​​such as American Sign Language.

“It was a good example of how police-community relations can be improved through open dialogue between police and community members,” Gewanter told the Daily Orange. “We knew they had to take a step forward. They listened and recognized that, then reached out and followed.

The department worked with Gewanter to develop the Communicating with people with limited English proficiencya policy that aims to improve communication between community members and agents and to continue to overcome language barriers.

The policy establishes that the department should never refuse service to a person with limited English proficiency and specifies five types of language assistance, including in-person and on-site interpreters, audio or video interpretation service remotely, bilingual members of the ministry (in the absence of an authorized member), an authorized bilingual member of the service and approved community volunteers.

The plan also states that the ministry will continue to work with community groups, local businesses and neighborhoods to ensure that all members of the community have equal access to the language services it establishes.

“All of this was a huge step forward for the SPD, and I was very happy that they asked for my contribution and help,” Gewanter said. “This new policy, procedure and training will help make policing accessible to the many people in our community with limited English proficiency. This is about fundamental equality as well as effective community service, and the SPD seems to have really grasped this need.


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Jennifer C. Burleigh