DOJ settles with King County Sheriff’s Office in agreement to improve language access

OLEO has previously expressed concerns about the office’s language access policies.

Last week, the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) and the King County Sheriff’s Office announced a settlement to address deficiencies in the Sheriff’s Office language access policies and practices.

The agreement—which stemmed from an allegation of discrimination against a community member with limited English proficiency (LEP) in November of 2021—outlines a two-year phased plan for the Sheriff’s Office to develop and implement training and policy directives to improve language access and communication between Sheriff’s Office deputies and LEP community members.

In a statement, the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), said that while it applauds the Sheriff’s Office for entering into this agreement voluntarily, OLEO has previously expressed concerns about the Sheriff’s Office language access policies and interactions with LEP individuals.

“OLEO sent policy recommendations to the Sheriff’s Office to improve language access for hearing-impaired and LEP individuals in March 2023 with no response or action from the department to implement our recommendations,” the oversight office said in a statement regarding the settlement.

OLEO’s 2023 recommendations and the new agreement from the DOJ share significant overlap including: developing policies and directives on the use of interpreters; guidance and training for bilingual deputies; restricting reliance on the use of children, family members, and other bystanders for translation services; protocols for identifying an individual’s primary language and appropriate language access services; and data collection and reporting on interactions with LEP individuals.

In addition to those urgently needed actions outlined in the DOJ settlement, OLEO also stated the office encourages the Sheriff’s Office to incorporate best-practices for language access for ASL speakers and hearing-impaired individuals.

According to Census data, more than 1 in 10 residents of King County could be considered LEP and 2.8% have a hearing difficulty.

“It is imperative that the Sheriff’s Office take immediate steps to ensure that all residents, no matter their language proficiency or hearing abilities, have equal access to the King County Sheriff’s Office,” OLEO wrote in a statement. “As a key stakeholder in the provision of fair and just policing in King County, OLEO looks forward to being a partner in supporting the work outlined in the DOJ agreement and invites anyone in the community to share their ideas for improving language access.”