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Politics & Policy

Supervisor Mar proposes law to boost non-English language services in SFPD

The surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans in San Francisco and criticism in the community over a lack of victim services prompted Supervisor Gordon Mar to propose legislation Tuesday that will require police to create better access for non-English speaking immigrants.

Mar's proposal would require every district police station to craft a plan to boost language access and community engagement. The legislation, titled “Community Policing Plans,” argues that each police station should address the “distinct language access needs” relevant to their local demographics. The law aims to build stronger engagement between law enforcement and residents as well as merchants through foot and bike patrols.

In a statement, Mar said his new policy will “strengthen community ties to prevent crimes, and meet our immigrant community’s language access needs.”

Under the proposal, each station would need to make a plan with neighborhood associations and other community members’ input before next year. The proposed law doesn’t require police to hire bilingual officers as the department is already facing a staffing shortage.

Non-English language access to law enforcement has been a hot topic in the Asian American community since the Stop Asian Hate movement began calling attention to the spike in hate crimes occurring during the pandemic. Albert Chow, the business owner of the Great Wall Hardware in the Sunset District, said in a statement that language access is “essential to ensuring equal justice and service for all victims.”

“Whenever an immigrant-owned small business is targeted by a crime, the victims face significant language barriers that prevent them from getting appropriate help,” Chow said.

Last year, San Francisco police announced a new hotline, (415) 558-5588, to encourage monolingual victims to report crimes. Now the hotline includes nine languages: Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Tagalog and Russian.

Matt Dorsey, a spokesperson for San Francisco police, told The Standard that the department has 394 certified and non-certified officers who speak more than one language.

Dennis Wu, a Chinese community activist and the founder of the nonprofit organization SF CAUSE, has been working with the police department to make the hotline available since last year.

“I always believe it is important to break the psychological barriers,” Wu said. “When people can’t communicate, they are reluctant to speak up.”