In a December 19, 2022 press release, the US Department of Justice announced the launch of the Law Enforcement Language Access Initiative, a nationwide program with the goal of ensuring “greater safety” for people with limited English proficiency (LEP).
More specifically, the program will help local and state law enforcement agencies across the country strengthen ties with LEP groups by developing technical resources and tools, improving language access policies, and conducting training that promotes best practices.
According to the press release, the Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section will lead the initiative in partnership with US Attorneys’ Offices.
The announcement follows a November 2022 memorandum from the Office of the Attorney General directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the Justice Department’s Language Access Coordinator “to share best practices and exchange information about language access initiatives and efforts” with other Federal agencies.
Ana Paula Noguez Mercado, the Justice Department’s first-ever Language Access Coordinator, joined the Office for Access to Justice in May 2022. In a symbolic gesture, her appointment coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Department’s enactment of the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act.
“Language access is a key barrier to the reporting of hate crimes, and the Language Access Coordinator will help improve knowledge, use, and expansion of the Department of Justice’s language resources,” a May 2022 press release explained.
Denver Police Department Discrimination Case
Law enforcement agencies have long been obligated to provide language access to LEP individuals. Executive Order 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, was enacted in August 2000 to ensure meaningful access for LEP people to Federally-funded programs.
Fifteen years later, the Justice Department acknowledged the “great progress” made, while affirming that agencies “must continue to evaluate and enhance their language services, and help federal employees and those receiving federal financial assistance meet the needs of LEP persons and fulfill their missions.”
The DoJ press release illustrates the ongoing enforcement challenge by highlighting recent allegations that the Denver Police Department (DPD) discriminated against Burmese- and Rohingya-speaking LEP residents by failing to provide effective and appropriate language assistance.
In addition to the Law Enforcement Language Access Initiative, the Justice Department’s press release announced that it had resolved its investigation into the allegations, with the DPD agreeing to implement a series of changes to its language access policies, procedures, and training.
These changes include updating the DPD’s Language Access and Policy Plan; training DPD employees and recruits on interacting with LEP individuals; and creating a Language Access Committee with LEP community stakeholders. The DPD will also have to establish Language Access Points of Contact (LAPCs) in every DPD district.