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Friday, May 28, 2021

Justice Department Settles Investigation into Language Barriers in the Hazleton Police Department

The Justice Department today announced it has reached a settlement agreement with the Hazleton Police Department (HPD) and the City of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, to help people with limited English proficiency (LEP) communicate with the police.

The agreement resolves a Justice Department investigation of the HPD under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal assistance, such as the HPD. The Justice Department initiated its review after receiving a complaint from the Community Justice Project on behalf of an LEP Hazleton resident who had been forced to rely on his young son and a co-worker to communicate with the police. HPD has since agreed to secure appropriate and reliable means of communicating with the City’s large Spanish-speaking community. 

"Timely and accurate communication between limited English proficient residents and police officers is essential to public safety,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division. "The changes required by this agreement will benefit crime victims and witnesses, but also help police officers do their jobs. We are pleased that Hazleton’s City and Police Department leadership support improvements to police policy and practices on language services."

“Our office is proud to have joined with the Civil Rights Division on this important case,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bruce D. Brandler for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. “Ensuring that all individuals can communicate with law enforcement officers benefits all involved and is fundamental to our democracy.”

Under the agreement, HPD will soon release a new standard operating procedure on language access that requires HPD officers to provide appropriate language assistance in any contacts with LEP community members. Over the next year, HPD and the City will take a number of additional steps, including providing Spanish and English language notices and complaint forms, assessing language skills of bilingual officers, and training staff on how and when to access interpreters and translations.  

Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt, and information about limited English proficiency and Title VI is available at www.lep.gov. Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at https://civilrights.justice.gov/report/.

Updated June 11, 2021