'Just English': 911 operator under investigation for hanging up on Spanish speakers

© Andrew Ross
A 911 operator in Lawrence, Massachusetts is currently being investigated for allegedly hanging up on Spanish-speaking callers, even though the department is supposed to have a fluent speaker on hand for just such occasions.

Notably, this isn’t a one-time accusation against the dispatcher, who has remained unidentified. According to CBS Boston, which broke the story, the operator has dumped Spanish-speaking callers a total of three times, a significant number considering that 75 percent of Lawrence is Spanish-speaking.

In an audio recording made available by the news outlet, a man who called in to 911 can be heard speaking in Spanish.

“I don’t speak Spanish. I speak English, sir,” the dispatcher says to the man.

In stilted English, the caller seems to ask if there is anyone there who could speak to him in Spanish.

“No, just English,” the operator responds. Shortly afterwards, she says goodbye and hangs up.

The man never called back.

CBS reported that Lawrence Police Chief James Fitzpatrick is “disgusted” with the situation. He said that the operator is supposed to connect Spanish-speaking callers with translators if they cannot be understood.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera added that it’s actually a requirement for a translator to be on hand at all times.

“Our hope is that we’ll discipline for this ... and if we can get a firing, we will,” he said to the Boston Globe. “At the end of the day … people need to know this is serious and won’t be tolerated.”

Since the start of the investigation, the dispatcher has been placed on paid leave. Fitzpatrick has tried to reassure residents, saying that they should not be afraid to call 911 no matter what language they speak.

“Don’t hesitate to call the Lawrence Police Department regardless of language barrier,” he said. “We will get to the bottom of whatever the issue is.”