NOLA area law enforcement battling new enemy: language barrier

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 11:37am

Detectives working to solve a weekend murder involving the mother of three kidnapped children say they ran into big obstacles due to a language barrier.

Early Sunday morning, two young boys found their mother, 24-year-old Heidi Monroy, dead in a bathtub in their apartment.

Investigators with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office went to work immediately, trying to interview the kids and neighbors.

"We've had to bring in quite a few Spanish interpreters because this whole crime scene and the interrogation process involves people with Hispanic descent so therefore we're trying to do all that we can," said Col. John Fortunato.

Fortunato says sometimes tracking down translators, especially on short notice when time is of the essence, can be difficult.

"[I'm] constantly getting called, always on call, 24/7," said officer Cesar Cruz. He's one of eight translators with the Kenner Police Department.

Cruz says several years ago, the department made a concerted effort to improve communications with Hispanic speaking residents and now requires one of the eight translators to be on duty every shift.

"I come to the scenes, I go the jail, wherever they need me, whatever they need just to make the investigation better. That way, we don't have that barrier, that language barrier," Cruz explained.

Kenner Chief Michael Glaser's goal is to take away the fear factor so many have with officers.

"Don't be afraid of the police. If you're the victim of a crime, call the police," said Glaser.

But that might be easier said than done because of past experiences, according to Carolina Hernandez, executive director of Puentes New Orleans.

"Where they come from, their home countries, they already have a reluctance to trust government," Hernandez explained.

Hernandez says she's seeing local police forces make strides in their efforts to better communicate with Hispanic communities, but there's still a long way to go.

"I think the easiest thing they could start doing is just hiring bi-lingual staff," Hernandez commented.

While funding is certainly an issue for areas like Orleans Parish, Kenner is already looking to add to its force. In fact, Chief Glaser says he's put the call out to the Hispanic community, looking for qualified applicants.

Investigators in Texas Monday tracked down Heidi Monroy's boyfriend, 46 year old Pedro Monterroso-Navas, and took him into custody. The three children he took from the home, are now all safe.

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