Professor, students teach ‘survival Spanish’ to Jackson County officers

Western Carolina University Spanish majors (front, from left) Garrett Fisher, Sandra Ten Eyck and Richard Ray get ready to act out an arrest scene with Jackson County sheriff’s officers (back, from left) Andy Parker, Dale Blankenship and Norman Smith. Five WCU students and Jamie Davis, assistant professor in WCU’s department of modern foreign languages, were meeting with a group of sheriff’s office personnel to help them learn “survival Spanish.” (Photo by Stephanie Salmons, Sylva Herald)

Western Carolina University Spanish majors (front, from left) Garrett Fisher, Sandra Ten Eyck and Richard Ray get ready to act out an arrest scene with Jackson County sheriff’s officers (back, from left) Andy Parker, Dale Blankenship and Norman Smith. Five WCU students and Jamie Davis, assistant professor in WCU’s department of modern foreign languages, were meeting with a group of sheriff’s office personnel to help them learn “survival Spanish.” (Photo by Stephanie Salmons, Sylva Herald)

Officers with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office have been returning to the classroom recently to learn basic “survival Spanish” taught by a group of students and their professor from Western Carolina University’s department of modern foreign languages.

A total of about 25 officers participated in two training sessions held at the Sheriff’s Office in early March, and a third and final session will be scheduled for a later date, said Jamie Davis, an assistant professor who is leading the service-learning project for the students.

As a result of increases in Jackson County’s Spanish-speaking population, the officers find themselves in situations where they need to know some Spanish “probably daily,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Queen. “The likelihood of an encounter with a Spanish-speaking person, either as a victim of a crime or as a suspect, is tremendous,” Queen said. “The value that’s coming out of this training is, first and foremost, officer safety. It’s extremely valuable for our officers, and it’s also a good deal for the taxpayers of Jackson County.”

Davis, who approached the Sheriff’s Office to offer the training, said the purpose of the free sessions is not to make the officers fluent in Spanish, but to teach them certain phrases that will allow them to establish basic control in situations involving Spanish-speaking individuals.

During a March 10 session, five WCU students assisted Davis in teaching key phrases to the officers and participated in role-playing exercises with them, giving the officers a chance to practice their new language skills. Participating students were Spanish majors Elizabeth Caveny, Richard Ray, Garrett Fisher and Sandra Ten Eyck, and a native Spanish speaker from Mexico, Adriana Lemus.

WCU’s Davis, who has been a police officer for 13 years, and still works on some weekends as an officer, developed the “survival Spanish” training in honor of Darryl Lunsford, a Texas constable who was gunned down by three Spanish-speaking individuals in 1991. Lunsford’s killers discussed their plan to kill right in front of him, but the constable didn’t know what they were saying, Davis said.

Davis, who is in his third year on the WCU faculty, has led “survival Spanish” sessions for several law enforcement agencies in Georgia, and he modified the training at WCU to take advantage of the students’ speaking and listening skills.

In addition to providing a service to the officers, Davis said the training sessions are valuable for the students. “We want our Spanish majors to have an opportunity to see the importance and relevance of their bilingual skills in a rapidly changing world,” he said.

Davis has developed three related courses that the department of modern foreign languages hopes to offer next academic year – one-hour credit courses in Spanish for criminal justice professionals, social workers, and nursing and emergency medical workers.

For more information about the Spanish training, contact Davis at (828) 227-3872.