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King County Sheriff urged to provide more interpreters for non-English speakers

caption: A patrol vehicle for the King County Sheriff's Office.
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A patrol vehicle for the King County Sheriff's Office.
King County Sheriff's Office

An oversight committee is urging the King County Sheriff's Office to do better around how it communicates with people who don’t speak English.

The recommendations stem from a 2022 internal investigation. It looked at a traffic stop involving two King County Sheriff’s deputies. The man they pulled over alleges he was discriminated against because of his Hispanic heritage, and alleges the deputies used excessive force. At one point, the man ended up on the ground as deputies arrested him.

According to the investigative report, "The complainant alleged that one of the deputies at one point placed their knee on his face while he was on the ground, resulting in a minor mark. The complainant stated that he was not hurt by this but was sure that it occurred."

During the interaction deputies had struggled to find a way to communicate with the man. He had a blood alcohol level higher than the legal limit for someone to drive in the state of Washington.

The man was arrested before a Spanish-speaking detective was able to help translate for the deputies. The report says the man arrested did not speak English well, but “that he can understand everything.”

Katy Kirschner is with the county’s office of law enforcement oversight, which takes a look at such cases.

“We noticed that the policy that addresses use of interpreters actually only had requirements for American Sign Language, and not a lot of policy that spoke to non-English speaking individuals," Kirschner said.

She says they have plenty of resources, but not many are requirements, or even outlined in officers' handbooks.

The oversight committee outlined several ways for the sheriff’s office to address this gap in a letter, including ways to identify language barriers and provide interpreters.

In a statement provided to KUOW, the sheriff’s office says it’s currently working to update its policies to reflect best practices, and has a language access liaison who is "actively addressing and improving the department’s policies, tools, and processes to assist community members needing assistance with languages other than English or sign language."

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