Arizona Republic
May 11, 2007

Author: Amanda Soares, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 2

As one of the interns in The Republic's Mesa newsroom this spring, I spend a lot of time writing about crime and reporting on the work that police officers are doing.

So, I got excited when presented with the opportunity to go out with an officer to see firsthand what the job is like. After all, I have always been curious to know what it's like inside one of those police cars that almost throws me over the edge when it pulls up behind me as I'm driving.

And while being in the middle of the action in the world of crime, I thought to myself there is always a chance I could get a big break!

Who knows? I could get lucky enough to be the first to report on a big gang leader's arrest, or to be at the scene of a huge drug bust, or to respond to a 911 call for a family fight at some official's home. A million things could happen the moment I got in that patrol car.

So I left the Dobson station on a sunny Friday afternoon with Officer Diana Tapia, who was recently transferred to the public information office at the Police Department. Diana is a valuable member of the department for many reasons, including that she's fluent in Spanish. She used to work as a rover, a bilingual police officer who translates for other officers.

Considering that Mesa is nearly 25 percent Hispanic, not including a huge undocumented population, it is easy to see why non-Spanish-speaking officers are often in need of a translator.

And so we got busy. During our six-hour ride-along, we responded to four calls for translation.

It is hard to grasp how important a qualified translator is to officers without seeing police work up close. These translators guarantee that people dealing with police are understood and treated fairly. Small details are important in police work and good rovers help make sure those details are accounted for.

However, there are more people in the community who need assistance from Spanish-speaking officers than the few rovers in the department can handle.
Across the city's workforce, diversity is a problem. Of the 845 police officers in Mesa, only 90 are certified Spanish speakers. These 90 are divided into basic and intermediate speakers and among the intermediate are the only three rovers in the entire city.

Given the numbers, it seems the Mesa Police Department will have to hire many more Dianas before it will be able to effectively serve the large Hispanic population.

So there you go. I might not have gotten my big break in that ride-along, but seeing a bit of a police officer's work helped me better understand something that is a big part of my job.

CAPTION: Amanda Soares (left), an intern for The Mesa Republic, did a ride-along with Mesa police spokeswoman Diana Tapia.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Mesa Republic West
Page: 2