This summer I worked alongside Professor Amada Armenta to explore the occurrence of victimization among the Latino immigrant community in Philadelphia. The goal of this project was to garner a better understanding of why Latino immigrants do or do not report crimes, their experience with the Philadelphia PD, and their experience through the criminal justice process. As part of this project, I interned at Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia (VWSSP) and observed consultations between victim advocates and Latino clients. As part of my internship at this organization, I also organized a research effort to collect data on VWSSP’s Limited English Proficient (LEP) clients and identified whether the Philadelphia PD followed protocol when filing police reports for these individuals.
According to Directive 71, the Philadelphia PD is required to provide all LEP individuals with language access assistance, which can be supplied in the following forms: through an officer certified to interpret in the given language, a language line, an interpreter from a contracted service, and/or an uncertified bilingual officer (only when other services are not available). Depending on the situation, the Directive clarifies which services must be used by officers. Additionally, when using one of these services or when the reporting officer becomes aware that the complainant is LEP, they are required to mark the police report as “LEP” and identify the individual’s primary language. When conducting this project, I gathered a list of VWSSP’s LEP clients and reviewed their police reports to see if they were properly marked as “LEP.” The vast majority, about 90 percent, were not. Therefore, the client most likely did not receive proper language access assistance when filing their police report. I gathered this information while also sitting in on consultations with frustrated LEP clients who often recounted stories of being unable to properly describe how they were victimized to police officers because of a language barrier.
In addition to learning valuable ethnography skills, such as how to properly write and code fieldnotes as well as how to index and transcribe interviews, I also learned how discouraged immigrants often feel when seeking help due to various obstacles including language barriers and improper access to language services. By gathering all VWSSP’s LEP client information and reviewing their police reports, I hope the organization may be able to persuade the police department to raise awareness about Directive 71 to their own staff and abide by their policy more often.