The growing Latino presence in Kentucky influenced policing in the state’s two major cities. In 1994 Assistant Chief Fran Root began to take notice of the increased Latino presence in Lexington and of the growing communication problems that ensued when officers interacted with Spanish speakers. Root discovered that few cities anywhere were doing anything noteworthy to respond to larger Latino populations and that the police department would have to innovate. In
1999 the department began a partnership with the Kentucky Institute for International Studies (a consortium of university summer study programs) to send officers to Morelia, Mexico, for language and cultural training and for an exchange with Morelia’s police.
Eventually, the program included 18 credit hours of college-level Spanish classes given in Lexington, followed by an additional 6 credit hours for those who completed the five-week immersion course in Morelia. The Spanish courses and the Morelia program won a 2002 award from a police association, and they have created a growing number of Spanish-speaking police officers who have been successful in connecting with Lexington’s Latinos. In 2006 Louisville began a similar program for judges, county and state attorneys, and public defenders. Despite these innovations, Latinos still face serious hurdles in the justice system because of their undocumented status and the insufficient number of Spanish interpreters.
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