In May 2011, the City of Springfield enacted a language-access ordinance to ensure that police, fire, emergency medical, and 911 dispatchers can serve non-English speakers. With support from the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley Project (PVP)--a faith-based organizing project in Springfield--led an 18-month campaign of education and negotiations with the Springfield City Council and Springfield Police Department.
Supporters of the measure cited the fact that close to one-third of Springfield's population does not speak English at home, which leads to serious communication problems in emergency situations. In one case, an English-speaking police officer failed to protect a Spanish-speaking victim because he was only able to communicate with the English-speaking assailant. In another, an immigrant called 911 and couldn't get help because no one spoke her language. And even English speakers suffer if non-English speakers are unable to report crimes, fires, or medical emergencies.
"Springfield is leading the way by passing this ordinance," said Bill Newman, director of the ACLU's Western Massachusetts Legal Office. "It creates a mandate for meeting the safety needs of non-English speakers. Other cities could use this as a model."