Monterey Park will boost the salaries of police dispatchers with special language skills in hopes of recruiting more bilingual employees for its 911 emergency services.
Under a program adopted by the City Council on Monday night, dispatchers who are fluent in languages other than English that are spoken by more than 25% of the city's population will receive a bonus of $150 a month.
Dispatchers--employees who field 911 calls and send police or firetrucks to the scene--make $23,016 to $28,140 a year, depending on their length of employment.
Recent U.S. Census figures showed that more than 25% of Monterey Park residents speak Chinese or Spanish.
The Police Department has two Spanish-speaking police dispatchers but no Chinese-speaking dispatchers, even though Asians make up 56% of the city's population.
Mario Beas, the city's personnel director, said the amount of the bonus is substantial; nearby cities offer employees $35 to $50 a month for special language skills. Many cities do not offer any bilingual perks, he said.
Monterey Park gives its bilingual police officers an extra $50 a month, a third of what the dispatchers will receive. The dispatcher bonus is awaiting final approval from the city Personnel Board.
"We owe it to the residents," said Councilman Sam Kiang, who proposed the language bonus.
"All it takes is one call to not respond in time," and the result can be tragic, he said.
Council members Fred Balderrama and Judy Chu joined Kiang in approving the bonus.
But Mayor Betty Couch and Marie T. Purvis--who voted against the bonus--said the amount was excessive, especially compared to the $50 bilingual police bonus and the $25 that other city employees will receive starting in July.
"You're going to have a great deal of resentment," Purvis said. "I don't see why it's more important for a police dispatcher to be bilingual than a police officer on the street . . . with his life on the line."
But Couch and Purvis agreed that more bilingual dispatchers are needed. They, along with the rest of the council, voted to adopt a goal of having round-the-clock dispatchers fluent in languages spoken by more than 25% of the city's population.
The council set a one-year deadline for meeting that goal, which officials said will be achieved by hiring only bilingual dispatchers until all languages are covered. However, the hiring policy is not mandatory.
Initially, the council had considered a tougher policy, proposed by Kiang, that would have made the hiring goal mandatory. But City Atty. Anthony Canzoneri warned that Monterey Park could get into legal trouble if it failed to hire enough bilingual dispatchers and suggested a non-binding resolution instead.