APD speaks on importance of translators during emergency, non-emergency calls

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Last week, a man speaking Spanish called into the Amarillo Emergency Communications Center in distress, when officers arrived at his location they found 34-year old Gonzalo Zubia dead from a gunshot wound.

The Amarillo Police Department is now clearing some misinformation about this call and how 911 dispatchers respond to the non-English speaking callers.

Sgt. Carla Burr with the Amarillo Police Department said when someone calls 911 dispatch who does not speak English, the dispatcher just has to press a button to access a translation service that is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week and can be connected to the call within a minute.

“The call taker tells the language to the person if they know what it is, if not, then the caller, the person calling says their language, and then they immediately and it’s 30 seconds to one minute, usually delay in when they get on the phone to when that translator is on the phone,” said Sgt. Burr.

Sgt. Burr said they do have some bilingual dispatchers at the 911 call center, but it is impossible to have someone like that there every day due to training, vacations, and illnesses.

We have Spanish-speaking employees in dispatch, as far as multiple ones on every shift every day all the time. I don’t know. I don’t think so. plus, with training, vacation, all the things, illnesses, all of those things, there’s probably not one on shift every day, 24 hours a day,” added Sgt. Burr.

She added that when Zubia called on Nov. 27, the translator service was on the call. She said the delay in getting a translator on the call did not result in his death.

“The call taker that took that call, not speaking Spanish did not contribute to this man dying, the wound that he received is why he died. If we had been there, when it happened, he still would have died. That’s how serious the wound was,” said Sgt. Burr.

Burr said that Zubia provided them with an incorrect address, and officers were able to figure out the correct address by pinging Zubia’s phone.

“When he was talking to the call taker, with the translator on the line, he gave an incorrect address as well. And so that was part of the delay. But the other thing I want to say is I’m not blaming him, he had been shot, mortally shot, and he was probably scared, and then a tremendous amount of pain, and maybe didn’t even know what was going on at that point. We would have to call the cell phone company, we would have to example the emergency and example why we need it done and then they have to do the ping and that can cause sometimes a 10 or 15-minute delay,” said Sgt. Burr.

Sgt. Burr added the investigation into the death of Zubia is still ongoing.

Sgt. Burr wanted to add that emergency dispatch is hiring and they are always looking for people that are bilingual. She said individuals do get compensated for that in extra pay if they are bilingual.

The translation service not only provides translators for Spanish but also other languages that Amarillo sees due to the refugee population.

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