Most 911 calls in this city, where Asians and Latinos compose 87% of the population, are from people whose primary language is not English.
But out of 11 full-time police dispatchers--the employees who field emergency calls and send police cars or firetrucks out--only two speak Spanish, and not one speaks Chinese.
The City Council has decided to do something about that. On Monday, it unanimously approved in concept a program to recruit dispatchers who speak Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin. Of the city's population, 56% is Asian, most of them Chinese, and 31% is Latino.
Now, when non-English speakers call for help, dispatchers often must ask other employees to translate. Telephone companies provide translation services for police and fire departments, but officials say using the services requires dispatchers to dial an operator and can be slow and confusing during an emergency.
Details still need to be worked out for the new program, which would increase recruitment efforts and provide incentives such as salary bonuses for people with special language skills.
Some bilingual city employees, including dispatchers, will receive a language-skill bonus of $25 a month beginning July 1, said Personnel Director Mario Beas.
But Councilman Sam Kiang, who is pushing for more bilingual dispatchers, maintains that the bonus is not enough to attract new dispatchers. Monterey Park's dispatchers make between $23,016 and $28,272 a year, depending on their length of employment.
By comparison, Pasadena pays its dispatchers between $25,397 and $32,885 a year, and on July 1 will pay an extra 5% to those with bilingual skills, officials there said.
In Alhambra, dispatchers make between $23,652 and $33,228. All bilingual Alhambra employees soon will begin to receive bonuses of between $50 and $100 a month, Personnel Director Ann Moore said.