Bryce Johnson

Johnson

The Idaho Falls Police Department is on the verge of expanding the list of languages that will provide bonus pay for fluent officers.

Chief Bryce Johnson spoke to the Idaho Falls City Council on Monday about a number of small adjustments being made to the city’s Police Personnel Manual.

The city already offered “language pay” to officers who were able to translate Spanish for them, but the policy had not been listed in the manual previously. While discussing the policy before it was added to the manual, Johnson said that officers and department leaders began thinking about the other languages that would be most helpful.

“If we had officers who could speak those popular languages, it would worth that premium pay as well. That could be extremely valuable for us,” Johnson said.

American Sign Language was the first that Idaho Falls police hoped to add. Officers have used apps and technology to roughly translate a number of languages but have fewer tools for deaf and hard-of-hearing residents.

Johnson told the council about an incident decades earlier while he was an officer in Salt Lake City. He had served a protective order to the husband in a deaf couple and had to rely on the husband’s friend to go over the order, line by line, and trust the translation was accurate. Hours later, the husband killed his wife, and Johnson wondered if a fluent officer could have prevented that.

“Crime doesn’t distinguish between hearing and non-hearing people or depend on what language you speak. It affects everyone,” Johnson said.

Languages would be added to the list of premium pay skills at the discretion of the chief as the need arises. Mandarin Chinese was suggested during the council meeting as potential high-demand languages to assist the high number of international tourists that come through the city.

Officers would go through a third-party interpreters test to earn the certificate, which is already in place for Spanish. Johnson said he doesn’t know of any officers that are proficient in sign language or Chinese but hopes the program will attract a higher diversity of new officers.

The final vote on all changes to the manual will be made by the City Council on Thursday night. The proposed additions will also increase the POST certificate pay for dispatchers by over $7,500, bringing it to the same level as police officers to comply with recent changes to the state requirements, and guarantee uniform allowances to officers.

Contact Brennen with news tips at 208-542-6711.

Kauffman reports on health care and city events for the Post Register.