On Friday night, Alex Kopeus dropped his keys on his desk at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Ashburn and waited for his phone to ring. After two hours on the job, Kopeus got to work.
At 8 p.m., Kopeus responded to an on-duty officer’s request for assistance in the Sterling area. When Kopeus left his office, he didn’t bring anything with him. The only thing he needed was his first language. Kopeus was born in Argentina and speaks Spanish fluently. He also speaks English, Russian and French.
The Sheriff’s Office hired Kopeus five months ago to assist them with non-English speaking residents. He works Tuesday through Sunday, from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
WHEN KOPEUS arrived at the scene, the deputy asked him to translate what he was saying into Spanish for a mother and her two sons. The deputy informed the teens of the dangers of joining a gang, in English, and Kopeus translated the advice.
"In order to expedite things, they call me out," Kopeus said. "Nothing major."
On the night of Thursday, July 13, the modest translator from Springfield visited the home of a toddler who burned himself with hot water.
"I helped the family," Kopeus said. "I talked with the father. We talked about how to help his son."
For Kopeus, the most important part of the job is being able to assist the deputies in carrying out their jobs.
"They have a tough enough job as it is," he said. "Anyway I can help them out is fine."
Whether Kopeus assists a deputy issue a traffic ticket or give advice to teens, he said he always tries to make a positive impression on non-English speaking residents.
"No matter what happens in their countries, it is important for people to know in this country, you can rely on the police," he said. "You can’t rely on the police south of the border and in South America. Here it is different."
SHERIFF’S OFFICE spokesperson Kraig Troxell said 7.5 percent of Loudoun’s population is Hispanic. That number has doubled since 1999. Three percent of the county’s population speaks English poorly or not at all.
In the past, when officers encountered a language problem, Troxell said they dialed a language hotline. The hotline supplies officers with translators that act as a middle man between the officer and non-English speaker.
"This is used quite often during investigations," Troxell said, "but it doesn’t work well in the heat of the moment. There is a disconnect."
In addition to hiring a translator, the Sheriff’s Office offers deputies Spanish classes.
Sheriff Stephen Simpson sees the problem almost daily.
"The county is changing and it is challenging," Simpson said.
In an effort to overcome the language obstacle, the Sheriff’s Office offers deputies Spanish-language classes.
Troxell referred to the language program as a 64-hour survival Spanish course.
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with an Alexandria-based teaching organization, offers deputies a 12-week beginner’s Spanish class and a 12-week advanced Spanish class.
"The population is changing," Troxell said. "The need for Spanish-speaking deputies is increasing."
While training to become an officer, men and women receive "basic survival Spanish," Troxell said.
Officers in training learn basic commands, like "Put your hands up," and "Identify yourself."
The 12-week programs equip officers to carry on a basic conversation in a heated moment.
"Not all the officers are going to be fluent, but they can carry on a basic conversation, back and forth," Troxell said.