Officer Jessenia Guzman was operating a switchboard in an Upper West Side station on May 14 when she said one sentence to a passing colleague in Spanish. “It was just natural … She walked by. She was going to get coffee. She said something. I responded [in Spanish]. That was it,” she told the New York Daily News. Later that day, she received a memo of reprimand from a superior officer, citing her for being in violation of a rule that requires officers “to communicate department business in the language of English.”
The memo, by Lt. Richard Khalaf, also said that, “This policy is in place to allow proper supervision of personnel.” According to the News, high-ranking officers were told about the policy and instructed to enforce it more at training classes last month. Guzman also noted that the officer she had been speaking with – who was also speaking in Spanish – had not been cited. She has since filed federal equal opportunity complaints against the lieutenant who cited her.
The policy itself states that officers must, “speak English while they are conducting business for the department unless speaking a foreign language is a necessary component to performing their duties and responsibilities.” NYPD spokeswoman Kim Royster defended the policy, saying, “We’re a 24/7 operation. We should be speaking one voice, which is English.”
The NYPD has been under fire in recent months for failing to serve the needs of low-English proficiency residents. The city government and the force itself have touted their increasing diversity and foreign language outreach programs. According to an NYPD press release, city officers speak 75 different languages.
Guzman is a Bronx native who is a veteran police officer of 13 years. The reprimand will reportedly stay on her record for the rest of her career.
Kumar Ramanathan is an intern at ThinkProgress.