KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Osceola County has a Hispanic sheriff; a first in Central Florida history.
Inside the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, there is a push to connect with a growing community: Latinos.
The county is seeing a surge of Latinos moving to the area. The most recent Census found 54% of its population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
Now Sheriff Marcos Lopez, elected last November, is looking to hire interpreters to handle Spanish calls for help.
"I noticed that they were having like about 900 calls a month requesting Spanish-speaking assistance in either emergency or non-emergency [situations]," he said.
The interpreters would replace a translation service, and save time.
"You’re getting someone who speaks the language, someone who can really understand the emergency and needs in the community and you’re getting real-time help," added Sheriff Lopez.
Lopez is from Puerto Rico. He’s been an Osceola deputy for 16 years; he is also a Navy veteran. He comes from a military family. His grandfather also served.
"Grandfather fought in world war 1, Ignacio Lopez Pagan, he was drafted when he was very young," he said, "and I did it for 22 years and I retired after serving a short little tour in ‘04 in the Middle East, I retired in ’08."
Now Sheriff Lopez’s mission is to serve Osceola County. Doing so, he realizes means doing so in two languages. The agency started a Facebook account in Spanish. Information during his news conferences is now provided in both languages.
"People have criticized that, ‘oh why are you doing this? Ok, this is America. We speak English.’" He explains, "you know this is a predominantly Latino community, and if you’re sheriff, whatever large group of minorities is living your community you better have some people that can communicate."
The sheriff is hoping to unite and help, building a cultural bridge instead of barriers.
"You have a sheriff that understands your culture, understands your needs," he said, "and we’re not going to tolerate you know that racism, were’ not going to tolerate discrimination. It goes to all people. It doesn’t matter what color you are here."
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