An Oct. 14 Metro story, "Quicker 911 Operators Touted by D.C. Mayor," quoted the official who oversees the District's emergency call center as saying that the system was becoming "the gold standard" in the country. Yet the emergency call system is largely inaccessible to the District's significant number of Spanish speakers.
The Metropolitan Police Department's own statistics indicate that the center employed only one certified Spanish-speaking 911 call-taker between 2001 and 2003. Although dozens of additional operators have been hired in the past year, the Spanish-speaking capacity at the call center has barely improved. The most recent numbers released by police do not provide separate information regarding 911 operators, but they show that the number of Spanish speakers at the communications center -- including supervisors and dispatchers as well as operators -- has remained at the 2001 level. Spanish speakers do not make up even 5 percent of the emergency communications staff.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the D.C. Human Rights Act and the D.C. Language Access Act prohibit the D.C. government from discriminating on the basis of national origin and require agencies to provide language assistance when needed. Until Spanish speakers can dial 911 and communicate their emergencies, the city's 911 system is far from a gold-standard operation.
Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
Washington Lawyers' Committee
for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs