FORT WORTH - Of nearly 1,200 police officers, about two dozen have passed a proficiency test in Spanish.
In four weeks, that number could increase fivefold when 100 officers finish basic Spanish classes intended to improve relations and communication with the Hispanic community.
"It's important for more police officers to speak Spanish so we can properly communicate with people," said Officer David Bowen, who helped organize the classes in conjunction with the Rotary Clubs in Tarrant County.
Rotary Clubs in Tarrant County are paying to fly in three teachers from Mexico to conduct the classes, which will be two hours a day, five days a week for four weeks.
"Police officers need to speak Spanish," said Conrad Heede, a Rotary Club member who helped organize the classes. "This is something we could do to benefit the entire city."
Officers taking the classes say they will help them bridge language and cultural barriers. The classes also may help the officers earn an extra $25 per month, if they can pass a Spanish proficiency test.
"One of the aspects of my job is to create trust," said Officer D.E.Dalco, a neighborhood patrol officer who works in southeast Fort Worth. "To do that, you have to reach all ethnic groups. We want them to know we're here to help them."
Raymond Gilmore, a patrol officer, said that can be difficult when only a few officers know how to speak another language.
"When you need a Spanish-speaking officer, you can't find one," he said. "There's not enough in our department."
The classes, which also focus on community relations, are offered free to all Fort Worth police officers, dispatchers and paramedics.
Officer Shelby Sullivan, a neighborhood patrol officer, said she signed up for the classes because it was a skill she needed to learn to better do her job.
"I patrol in the Polytechnic Heights area and there is a large Spanish-speaking population there,"she said. "It's really important for me to be able to talk to them. I get by right now with the few words I know and sign language, but they won't talk to us if we can't talk back to them."
Officer Sullivan said she thinks taking the Spanish classes will make her job easier.
"After four weeks of this, I should be doing pretty good," she said.
Officer Browen said he hopes other officers will reap similar rewards.
"We know four weeks isn't enough to become fluent, but hopefull they'll be able to hold a conversation," he said. "Anything we can do will help."
caption 1 - Sgt. J.E. Harrison (right) and Officer Jeff Valmores (center) of the Fort Worth Police Department take part in a Spanish class Thursday. The classes for officers, dispatchers and paramedics may help improve community relations and ease language and cultural barriers.