Police take Spanish classes

For the first time in its history, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is offering a rudimentary Spanish language course to its officers.

Inspector Anthony White said about 30 officers signed up to take the class, which had its first session on Thursday.

The introduction of the course in Cayman may seem odd since workers from non-English speaking countries are given English proficiency tests before being allowed to enter.

But Inspector White, who’s in charge of RCIPS training, said the police service routinely gets calls where at least some Spanish language skills are needed.

‘It happens every week,’ Mr. White said. ‘The demographics here have changed considerably over the past ten years. The high influx of people (from Spanish-speaking countries) has created a need for this course.’

RCIPS does have officers who are fluent in Spanish. Mr. White said he could think of at least 10-15 people in the police service who can speak the language, but there are no formal records kept detailing officers’ language skills.

The course, which meets twice a week for four weeks, is strictly voluntary. Officers who choose to enrol are required to finish the 16 hour programme, which is taught by Police Constable Yvonne Townsend. An aide who is a native Spanish speaker will be on hand to help officers sort out colloquialisms or common slang phrases.

The course is being taught on the University College of the Cayman Islands campus.

Inspector White admits the limited training will not produce fluent Spanish speakers. However, he said it will at least give police the basic skills they need to cope with day-to-day situations.

‘You start off with, ‘What is your name? Where do you live? How can I help you?’ Its enough to make contact, introduce (officers) to the victims or even the offender.’

For a number of years Cayman Islands Immigration officers have administered an English-language test to work permit holders from non-English speaking countries upon their arrival at Owen Roberts Airport. However, that test was recently revised because of concerns addressed in an Office of the Complaints Commissioner report.

The OCC said the previous test was being applied haphazardly, even unfairly in some cases. Prospective workers were failing exams, not because they couldn’t understand English, but because they didn’t know certain details about the Cayman Islands.

Standard tests, both written and verbal are now given to newly-arrived workers. The Caymanian Compass also reported (16 March) that workers from non-English speaking countries that entered Cayman before November 2006 would have to take the revised English language test.

The Compass asked Inspector White why police officers needed the Spanish course if everyone working here had already taken an English test.

‘I don’t know how to make that connection,’ he said. ‘How are they (non-English speakers) here? I don’t know. But they are here.’

The Cayman Islands is home to a large Filipino community as well as a large number of Central Americans. A few dozen Cuban nationals also live on the islands, as well as some South Americans.

It is possible for Hispanic work permit holders, or those who’ve gained Caymanian or refugee status to bring their families here. Also, Spanish-speaking tourists come to the island and may need police assistance at times.

‘If you have people here that are not speaking English well enough…we need to do this class,’ Mr. White said. ‘This community is very diverse; now more than ever.’

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