TIFTON -- The growing Hispanic population in Tift County seems to be forcing area investigators and police to develop new methods to perform what would otherwise be routine law enforcement duties.

Police perform countless traffic stops and investigations each day, but because a growing number of suspects and victims don't speak English fluently, the job of law enforcement personnel has become increasingly difficult.

Det. John Falotico, an investigator with the Tifton Police Department, says that something as simple as making routine contact and follow-up interviews for investigations becomes more difficult because police aren't just dealing with people who speak a different language, but who practice a different culture and way of life.

"Some of the Hispanic population in this area doesn't stay here very long, either because they move frequently to follow agriculture work or just because they want to move to a different area. This tends to make our job a little more difficult because contacting these people for follow-up interviews and stuff like that becomes harder," Falotico said.

Or, in some cases, impossible. In a recent robbery by force case, TPD investigators found that the victim had left the area, presumably for Mexico. They were unable to get a supplemental interview or even allow the victim to identify the suspect in the case.

In a case such as that, prosecutors still press charges against the suspect, but the case becomes more difficult to prosecute due to a lack of witness and victim testimony.

For the time being, the situation seems to be somewhat isolated to the city. Investigators with the Tift County Sheriff's Department say that while they do get their share of cases involving non-English speaking people, they don't appear to be growing in number.

For those cases that do involve non-English speaking county residents, the TCSO utilizes bilingual deputies to translate and interview the victims or suspects in the field. Major Jeff Flynt of the TCSO said that the department's diversity program has enabled them to more efficiently handle Hispanic victims or offenders.

The department currently uses two female and three male employees, including two brothers, as translators and provides their services to other local agencies who may need them.

They expect to have at least one Spanish-speaking employee working every shift by the end of the year.

"All law enforcement agencies must work toward diversity if we are able to professionally perform the duties we are assigned and under oath to perform. With the current Hispanic population heavy and on the rise, and the variety of people traveling on this main corridor, we understand the immediate need for these deputies to be available and Sheriff Vowell set this goal that will be met by the end of the year that will avail us of this 24/7," Flynt said.

As far as illegal immigrants go, Falotico says that even they aren't reluctant to call police when they've been wronged.

"Whether legal or illegal, our Hispanic residents still are protected from abuse and violence by the Constitution. We have a duty to protect everyone. We really haven't noticed any reluctance on their part to call," Falotico said.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 35.3 million Hispanic people in the country, a number that grew by a staggering 58 percent from the 1990 census.

This growing number of Hispanics has trickled down to the area, with the agriculture and construction fields providing most of the work for the average Hispanic person.

To contact reporter JD Sumner, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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