If you've ever driven through east Tulsa, you've probably noticed the billboards in Spanish. That's just one of the signs of Tulsa's growing Hispanic population.
6 in the Morning reporter Omar Villafranca says Tulsa Police are trying to stay ahead of the growth spurt.
One of the toughest challenges Tulsa Police face on the streets is the language barrier. What seems like a normal traffic stop for Officer David Smasel turns into a cultural lesson for him and the driver. The driver doesn't have an American driver's license and now, knows he has to have one.
Officer Smasel patrols east Tulsa, where a large part of the population is Hispanic. He uses Spanish tapes and books to help with the language. â€œMy Spanish is better. I can get through about any call if I have enough time." But the growing Hispanic population isn't waiting.
The Santa Cecilia Market is a hub for Hispanic business, but it's also a place where Tulsa Police get a lot of calls. They're hoping that one day, they'll be able to walk the beat and learn about problems in the Hispanic community, before they happen.
Officer Smasel says walking the beat would give him more time to learn more about the community he protects and learn the customs. He believes that translates into better service. "You can give me a class on Hispanic culture, but I've never lived it, I've never done it and there is no comparison with somebody who grew up in a Spanish speaking home or is bilingual.â€ But until there are more bilingual police officers to do the job, Officer Smasel and the booming Hispanic community will have to endure the growing pains.
The Tulsa Police Department is actively recruiting Hispanic and bilingual officers. Currently, there are 12 bilingual officers on the force and the department says they desperately want to increase that number.