Breaking down the language barrier between police and citizens - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Breaking down the language barrier between police and citizens

Source: WBRC Source: WBRC
  • More on the WebMore>>

  • State agency to open investigation of Madison incident

    State agency to open investigation of Madison incident

    Tuesday, February 17 2015 4:26 PM EST2015-02-17 21:26:33 GMT
    Tuesday, February 17 2015 5:33 PM EST2015-02-17 22:33:45 GMT
    Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has instructed the state's law enforcement agency to begin an investigation parallel to that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation into an excessive force case against a Madison police officer.More >>
    Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has instructed the state's law enforcement agency to begin an investigation parallel to that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation into an excessive force case against a Madison police officer.More >>
HOOVER, AL (WAFF) -

It's a video most of you have seen by now. A Madison police officer seen slamming an Indian grandfather to the ground, partially paralyzing him. 

Sureshbhai Patel's family says he doesn't speak English and tried to convey that to the officer. 

Patel is now suing the Madison Police Department and the officer, Eric Parker, faces termination and is charged with assault. 

So could this all have been avoided with the use of a simple translation device the size of a cell phone? 

Hoover's Police Department just started using the device known as ELSA, which stands for Enabling Language Service Anywhere. 

Captain Gregg Rector with Hoover Police likens ELSA to a using a cell phone on speaker. 

"The entire population is not going to speak English, so this is going to help us break down those barriers and hopefully be able to communicate with everybody that we run into, " says Rector. 

"These are portable devices. Our officers, our jailers, our dispatchers, can use them in the field and with the touch of a button, you can connect to a translator, that that individual what language you believe that person is speaking and literally within seconds, they have a translator on the phone," explains Rector. 

Two officers with the Hoover Police Department gave us a demonstration on how ELSA works. One of the officers speaks both English and Spanish. 

You can see a similar demonstration in this YouTube video.

ELSA can translate 180 different languages. 

"We have an Asian community, an Indian community, we certainly have a large Hispanic community," remarks Rector.

The Hoover Police Department is the first department in Alabama to use ELSA, according to Rector. They've only had the device for a few weeks, but use it daily. 

"We run into the language barrier situation everyday and for us to be able to communicate with those individuals who do not speak English, then it help is to do our job better," says Rector.

With 10 ELSA units in the field, at $400 dollars a piece, plus a usage fee, this is a tool that doesn't come cheap. However, for the Hoover Police Department, it's one that pays off in the end.

"Most important aspects of policing is being able to communicate with individuals and we want to communicate with everyone we come in contact with," says Rector.

We reached out to the Madison Police Department to see if they've heard of ELSA or explored bringing it to their department. We were told that since there is an ongoing lawsuit with Patel, they cannot comment.

Copyright 2015 WAFF. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly