The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has announced the implementation of a multilingual phone tree to greet the District’s limited-English proficient (LEP) and non/no-English proficient (NEP) persons in their language of choice.

The innovation was done in collaboration with LanguageLine Solutions, MPD’s longtime language-access partner, which offers professional, on-demand interpretation in more than 240 languages.

The phone tree offers six language options. Upon selecting a language, the caller is directed to an appropriate LanguageLine interpreter. Both are then connected with a member of MPD’s Command Information Center. The LanguageLine interpreter stays on the line for the duration of the call.

In the past, MPD members had to discern the language needed for LEP and NEP callers, and then patch in an interpreter. Officials estimate that the six languages offered in the phone tree will cover approximately 90 percent of interpretation requests.

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“MPD serves many visitors and community members on a daily basis who are limited-English proficient or non-English proficient speakers,” MPD Chief of Police Robert J. Contee III said. “Thanks to our partners at LanguageLine Solutions, over the years we have been able to provide the same quality services despite a person’s language of choice. The multilingual phone tree is inclusive and enhances the city’s services to the community.”

The LanguageLine multilingual phone tree is called Direct Response, which provides an in-language experience for non-English-speaking callers from the beginning of the call to the end.

With Direct Response, the LanguageLine partner (MPD in this case) embeds the LanguageLine toll-free number into their phone tree. When the LEP or NEP caller reaches the menu, they choose their language from a series of in-language prompts and are connected directly to an interpreter. The caller and interpreter are then connected to the LanguageLine partner together. The interpreter facilitates the conversation from the moment all parties are connected.

“Direct Response is one of our most meaningful innovations because it sets an inclusive tone from the start,” LanguageLine President and CEO Scott W. Klein said. “We are immensely proud of our partnership with MPD, which is among the nation’s most focused and well-intentioned agencies when it comes to providing equitable services to a diverse population.”

Direct Response is especially valuable to a client such as MPD in situations when the LEP or NEP caller is already anxious and needs straightforward access to in-language support. This makes them less inclined to hang up or avoid communicating. In fact, Direct Response is beneficial to any limited-English speaker who may be apprehensive about calling authorities due to language barriers.

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“The health and safety of our citizens is our greatest priority,” said Imhotep Newsome, MPD’s Language Access Program Manager. “To do so effectively, we must be proactive in creating equal access to our services for the diverse people who live in our region. Having the first voice they hear be in their native language signals to them that we care and they should stay on the line.”

This is the second significant collaboration between MPD and LanguageLine in the past 12 months. In late-2020, MPD installed the LanguageLine app on officers' mobile devices, giving them instant access to interpretation in more than 240 languages.