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Portland Police Go to School
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Gary AllenIn the shadow of the Marquam Bridge and firmly entrenched in one of the neighborhood’s they often patrol, a dozen police officers sit with brows furrowed, squinting at foreign words on the classroom board. They’re there for one reason – to better serve the people of Portland, all of the people of Portland.Increasingly, that means regular contact with the Latino community. To help its officers better relate to the Latino community, the Portland Police Bureau sought help from a nearby neighbor – Portland Community College and its Central Portland Workforce Training Center. What emerged was the bureau’s Spanish Communication Training program. In January, the school’s Institute for Management and Professional Development (IMPD) began delivering three levels of communication training for sworn and non-sworn personnel in conversational Spanish and Latino culture classes. "Although other similar programs do exist, we custom designed the training program to meet (the bureau’s) needs,"said Sue Stephanson, a corporate training specialist for the PCC institute. "IMPD designed the program to include vocabulary specific to police agencies as well as increase cultural awareness."The classes were part of a three-pronged approach Portland Police Bureau and PCC developed to give officers a firm foundation in Spanish language and Latino culture. The program also includes cultural get-togethers between the officers and prominent members of the Hispanic community, and as many as 25 students will travel to Mexico for immersion in Mexican language and culture.Lt. Mike Hefley, public information officer for the bureau, sees the benefits. "I think the Hispanic population is our largest minority in the state, the city,"he said. "We need to understand how to better deal with this population."Hefley said the bureau had a local program in place for six or seven years, but the instructor passed away and the PPB was looking to ramp up the language training while adding a cultural component."We needed some structure and someone to run the program for us,"Hefley said. "We’re trying to work in the cultural training and provide more of a focus on the immersion aspect."Hefley is enrolled in the Level II version of the class, reserved for those with prior language training. He said the training he’s receiving at PCC, as well as his prior experience, makes his job easier and more rewarding. "It’s just a good feeling to help someone in need by speaking their language,"he said.Officer Mike Frome, a Portland policeman for two years, understands the importance of the class. On a recent shift, half of the calls Frome traveled to involved speaking some Spanish."This class helps me understand where (Latinos) are coming from,"said Frome, who took some Spanish language classes in high school. "It’s been very good, it’s brought back a lot I’d forgotten."Frome is one of a half-dozen officers in uniform attending the Level II class on a warm spring evening. The students sit in a small classroom in the glass and brick Central Portland Workforce Training Center, their eyes directed at PCC instructor Braulio Garcia, a native of Cuba.For much of the three-hour class the instructor and his students discuss the differences between their two cultures – differences such as attention to personal space, family values, religion and the value of time."For us, time is not a value,"Garcia advises. "But when we come to this country we have to change. It’s not that it is good or bad, it is just another value."The titles of the students’ textbooks belie their mission: "Spanish for Law Enforcement Personnel,""Spanish Now!"and "501 Spanish Verbs."Jack Corbett, a university professor, served as a guest speaker in Frome’s Level II class in early April. For years Corbett has traveled to Mexico with professors and administrators in tow as part of a successful immersion program. He will be involved in planning the immersion program, through PCC, for the officers of the PPB."(It’s) not just the language, but how the language is used. A lot of learning you need to do goes beyond just this,"Corbett said as he gestured toward a board full of Spanish words. "It is contextual."Providing context has always been the goal of the Institute for Management and Professional Development, Stephanson said. "(Our goal is) to provide workforce training, career development and lifelong learning programs to businesses and individuals throughout our service area,"she said.Hefley put it more simply. "(The PCC program teaches us) how to communicate and understand people better that we deal with every day."