An unacceptable muzzle on Spanish

The NYPD’s English-only rule is an unjust policy that allows supervisors to discriminate against their subordinates.

We learned this week of this little- known “policy” that Lt. Richard Khalaf used to reprimand officer Jessenia Guzman.

Guzman briefly answered in Spanish when a colleague offered her cafe. The National Latino Officers Association announced that there are eight cases involving this type of disciplinary action — all against Latinas.

What makes this worse is that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have defended this policy. Bloomberg argued that it is a “life and death” issue. Kelly said it could be disconcerting to enter a police station and hear officers speaking a language other than English.

Bloomberg and Kelly distorted the situation and offered lame arguments. Guzman spoke a few words in Spanish during no emergency. The defense of an absurd policy—which does not run across city agencies—makes no sense.

This type of policy can have a chilling effect, as we are hearing from concerned Latino police officers.

The Department relies on Spanish-speaking officers for public safety and community relations. If a punishment looms for speaking another language, how are officers supposed to navigate that?

Another consequence is the impact on promotions in the department. A blemish on a personnel file could prevent the ascent of those who would otherwise be considered for advancement. This not only affects Latinos, but also other officers who patrol one of the world’s most diverse cities.

The NYPD’s backwards policy invites discrimination and retaliation. Bloomberg and Kelly must stop defending Khalaf and eliminate a rule that punishes officers for speaking another language. They must also remove the reprimand from Guzman’s record.

Latino and women’s rights leaders —not just fraternal organizations— should be at the front of this issue until this punishment-for-speaking-another language policy is eliminated. And so should police union head Pat Lynch. Hispanic officers pay dues too.