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Lost in translation: Crime and language barriers

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FALKLAND, NC -

Robbers break into a Pitt County home and threaten four migrant workers with a gun and a knife.

It happened Monday night near Falkland in Pitt County.

When deputies got to the scene, only one of the victims spoke English. It's now shedding light on language barriers during criminal investigations.

"My choice is to have a interpreter on the scene because we can't get the basic who, what, when, where description of the suspect, what happened, what was said, why they went in the house," Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks says. "Those are the common things that we have to have to conduct our investigation."

That's where translators like Romeo Garcia come in. He's fluent in Spanish and has a basic understanding of French and Italian. He's on call 24-7 in case the details of a crime get lost in translation.  

"That's very important because we run into situations where we've had people waiting for 30 minutes at a time because the deputy there can't speak to the victim," Garcia says. "Meanwhile an interpreter shows up and is able to ask the same questions the deputy has been trying to ask. The answers come out quickly, it's communicated, then we can follow up on the investigation."

Sheriff Elks says he tries to have at least one Spanish speaker on duty at all times. About 20 deputies serve as translators and everyone has access to a 24-hour translation hot line.

"The language barrier could be an obstacle, but we make sure we have things in place so we can overcome those barriers," he says.

Sheriff Elks says oftentimes immigrant workers in the East can become easy targets, as criminals assume they won't call 911 for fear of deportation. However, he insists his deputies are willing to help anyone, so he encourages them to report any criminal activity.


--- Original Story ---

Deputies in Pitt County are investigating a late night home invasion.

Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks says two burglars with a knife and a gun forced their way into a home on Beaver Lodge Drive off King's Crossroads Road last night while a third burglar kept watch outside.
    
Deputies say one of the men hit the homeowner in the head with a gun.
    
The call came in around 10:45 and there were 4 people inside the at the time.
    
The burglars got away with a cell phone, $35 in cash, and a pocketbook containing a passport.

 

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