New York City Police Department

NYPD's Foreign Language Outreach

The NYPD has set the standard worldwide for foreign language access and is the most diverse police department in the world, with thousands of native speakers of foreign languages who routinely use their foreign language skills to assist the public.

NYPD officers speak 75 foreign languages, listed below. Within the ranks are thousands who speak Spanish, and hundreds who speak Chinese (multiple dialects) and other critical languages including Russian, Korean, Polish, Arabic, Urdu, French, Bengali, Japanese, Creole, Italian. The Department recruits and enlists members of the service in its volunteer translator program to assist the public and police in investigations and for other needs. More than 1,400 translators have volunteered to provide assistance in the event they are called. The Department works with Berlitz and Geneva language experts to test and certify officers' language proficiency - more than 1,100 translators are certified.

There also is foreign Language Line capability citywide in all precincts, transit districts and housing areas, as well as with sergeants equipped with mobile phones that allow police to put any foreign language speaker in contact with a Language Line translator. Routinely, non-certified speakers who have grown up speaking a foreign language are relied upon to use their language skills. There is no Federal law or regulation that bars us from using foreign language speakers who are not certified. Beyond that, there is not a single documented case in which the use of a non-certified employee failed to translate properly.

In recent years, approximately one out of five recruits in Police Academy classes was born overseas. Nearly one out of three New York City police officers is Hispanic. Another 17% is black. Asians, who once barely registered in the Department’s headcount, now comprise 6.5% of police officers in the NYPD. Together, these three groups comprise 52.6% in the rank of police officer and 42% of sergeants. The tilt of minorities in the rank of police officer to majority status department-wide occurred in 2006.

When the FBI, the Department of Defense, the Secret Service and other Federal agencies need foreign language assistance, they often turn to the NYPD for help. New York City police also routinely support requests from other local and state law enforcement agencies throughout the area with translation assistance.

The NYPD has been the standard bearer for foreign language access for more than 40 years, beginning with the implementation of its precinct receptionist program in 1968, which recruited bilingual individuals from local communities to serve as interpreters and perform clerical duties. Identifying languages spoken by our employees and developing procedures to secure their services started as early as 1975. The Language Line service that provides telephonic interpretation was adopted in the early 1990s. In addition:

  • The volunteer language program was created in 2002 for our employees to volunteer interpretation services to those in need.
  • Selective certification hiring processes for officers with unique language skills was designed and implemented in 2004.
  • Distributing cellular phones with access to Language Line services to patrol personnel began as a pilot project in 2004, and went citywide in 2005.
  • Dual handset telephones with the Language Line were installed in police facilities beginning in 2005.
  • The Language Access Plan was published in 2009.
  • A poster indicating the availability of free interpretation services, displaying 22 languages was displayed at all point-of-service locations in 2009.
  • The Department designed and conducts a customer satisfaction survey in seven languages for members of the general public who had direct interactions with the Police Department. Consistently, the majority of respondents report being satisfied with the way the encounter was handled.

The NYPD’s diversity and foreign language capacity helps the Department in all aspects of its work, from community relations and conventional crime fighting to counterterrorism. The NYPD literally speaks the language of the City, which is multilingual. As a police department, it has by far the greatest number of speakers of foreign languages in uniform. The most common second language is Spanish, but we have officers who are fluent in 74 other foreign languages (below). When Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly returned in 2002 as commissioner for the second time, he broadly identified “three Cs” upon which to focus: Crime suppression, Counterterrorism, and Community Affairs. He saw increased diversity and foreign language skills ways of helping to succeed in all three.

Languages in addition to English spoken by NYPD officers include:

  1. Albanian
  2. Amharic
  3. Arabic
  4. Armenian
  5. Assyrian
  6. Bambara
  7. Bengali
  8. Bosnian
  9. Bukhori
  10. Burmese
  11. Cambodian
  12. Cantonese
  13. Creole
  14. Croatian
  15. Czech
  16. Dari
  17. Dutch
  18. Farsi
  19. Finnish
  20. French
  21. Fukienese
  22. Ga
  23. Georgian
  24. German
  25. Greek
  26. Gujarati
  27. Hebrew
  28. Hindi
  29. Hungarian
  30. Igbo
  31. Indonesian
  32. Irish Gaelic
  33. Italian
  34. Japanese
  35. Korean
  36. Laotian
  37. Lithuanian
  38. Malayalam
  39. Mandarin
  40. Mandingo
  41. Nepali
  42. Norwegian
  43. Pashto
  44. Patois
  45. Polish
  46. Portuguese
  47. Pothwari
  48. Punjabi
  49. Romanian
  50. Russian
  51. Serbian
  52. Serbo-Croatian
  53. Sign Language (American)
  54. Sindhi
  55. Slovak
  56. Somali
  57. Spanish
  58. Swahili
  59. Swedish
  60. Sylheti
  61. Tagalog
  62. Taishanese
  63. Taiwanese
  64. Tajik
  65. Tamil
  66. Thai
  67. Tibetan
  68. Turkish
  69. Twi
  70. Ukranian
  71. Urdu
  72. Uzbek
  73. Vietnamese
  74. Wolof
  75. Yiddish