911 staff receiving free Spanish lessons

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -  Jonesboro 911 dispatchers are making sure they are prepared to meet the needs of the Hispanic population in the city that has nearly tripled in the past decade, according to the U.S. Census.

Dispatchers are hosting a free Spanish class for 911 staff. The program is designed to train non-Spanish speaking dispatchers how to get information from Spanish-speaking callers and reduce the number of calls labeled "nature unknown".

The Hispanic population in Jonesboro more than doubled in past decade, going from 1,297 in the 2000 U.S. Census to 3,497 in 2010. The population of Jonesboro increased by 21.2 percent from 2000 to 2010, going from 55,515 people to 67,263 people.

Jonesboro E911 director Jeff Presley said dispatchers noticed an increase in calls a few years ago. "2009 I think was our busiest year as far as Hispanic callers," he said.

Dispatcher training supervisor Johnine Polston said the three-day training session will enable dispatchers to respond to emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "We're doing someone from each shift so we'll have somebody at all times."

The program is an element of Midwest Counterdrug Training based in Iowa. Edith Gonzalez has taught the class all over the United States for the past 12 years. She said the basic training is enough for dispatchers to help callers.

"In three days you only can learn so much. So, it's just basic Spanish. You know, 'Do you speak English? What's the address? Where is the emergency? Do you need the police, the fire, the ambulance?'"

Polston believes the training fills an immediate need for a growing population in Region 8.

"We have several calls a week that we could use, or do need a Spanish speaking person at least to communicate, whether it's just police, to let them know we need police, fire or ambulance and what kind of emergency we have."

The Jonesboro E911 program also works with interpreters at Arkansas State University and Hispanic Community Services, Inc.

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