AUSTIN -- Now is your chance to help build a bridge between the Austin Police Department and Austin's Spanish-speaking community.
The department is searching for bilingual volunteers to help with communication between officers and Spanish-speaking residents.
When a Spanish speaker calls for help, a group of volunteers go to work.
"We're out on the street from 9 until 3 a.m.," said community liaison Peter Freeman.
Freeman and Mario Renteria oversee a group of 20 people who respond to police scenes, including homicides, runaways, assaults and DWI cases.
"Providing a valuable service of clear and concise communication for the police officers and also the Spanish speaking citizens," said Freeman.
"When they get to see somebody speaking their language, they come way at ease. On top of the frustration of being victim, to add to it, it sometimes the language barrier," said volunteer Elio Giron.He moved to Austin from Puerto Rico.
Spanish-speaking citizens are growing exponentially in Austin. Twenty years ago, 23 percent of people in Austin were Hispanic. Today 35 percent are Hispanic.
Demographers say three main Hispanic communities have emerged in lower East Austin, as well as Dove Springs and St. Johns where 80 and 70 percent of those neighborhoods are now Hispanic.
Fifty years ago the majority living in Austin were white. Hispanics made up a small minority. Now the number of Hispanics is nearly equal to whites and will only continue to surpass them.
The goal is to eliminate the language barrier between citizens and police. As the city grows, so does the need for volunteers.
The Communication Facilitator Program requires volunteers to be:
- Bilingual in English and Spanish; must pass oral and written test
- Able to drive at night
- Able to work two 8:30 p.m.-3 a.m. shifts on Saturday or Friday each month
- At least 21 years of age
- Clean when it comes to a criminal background check
- A U.S. citizen
- Able to complete online or in-classroom training for about 16 hours
- Able to complete the APD Citizens Police Academy within two years of the first training session