Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

Local police departments say officers must learn Spanish

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FOREST PARK,Okla. - Millions of immigrants will now get to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

Officials believe many undocumented residents will come out of the shadows and with that comes a growing need for first responders to  speak Spanish, especially with police officers.

It's no surprise Spanish speakers are here and have been for quite a while, but for some officers, it's another layer of protection they have to learn, because of language barriers.

"If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law," President Barack Obama said during a prime-time speech Thursday night.

Across the nation and even here in Oklahoma, Hispanics gathered to watch their lives change in a matter of minutes as the president announced millions of undocumented people would be safe from deportation.

It has local police departments worried about language barriers.

"Since there is Spanish speakers here, especially as many as there is now a days, we probably need to learn a little bit of it," Cpl. Paul Harmon said.

Harmon works with Forest Park police, he says officers already have many responsibilities, but language is quickly becoming a top priority.

"When you have an English barrier, like that, communication barrier, it can be difficult. We don't know what they're saying," Cpl. Harmon said.

It's something he faced with a man from Guatemala after he was caught speeding in a school zone.

"Yes, I would've stayed in jail, because we didn't understand each other," Jose Menchú Garcia said in Spanish.

In this case, it was a simple misunderstanding.

If this man would not have understood to pay a speeding ticket, he could've ended up behind bars.

"It's all because I couldn't speak English, it cost me,"  Menchú Garcia says.

This officer says whether he likes it or not, he's going to have to learn a bit more Español.

"Every officer needs to learn different languages and increase their education," Cpl. Harmon said.

The state does periodically offer survival Spanish classes for officers.

It includes basic words and phrases like guns, putting your hands up and what's your name.

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