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Calif. PD officer fighting for $65 monthly bilingual pay

The city says its bilingual pay policy is discretionary, and as of now the only languages that qualify for the stipend are Spanish and Farsi


Redlands Police Officer Lalit Bali (right) testifies at his arbitration hearing at Redlands City Hall.

Photo/Joe Nelson of SCNG via TNS

By Joe Nelson
The Press-Enterprise

REDLANDS, Calif. — Lalit Bali immigrated with his family to Redlands from New Delhi, India, in 2001, bringing with him a skill set that included fluency in three languages — Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. He also brought with him a passion to serve and seek justice for others.

At age 14, he became an explorer for the Redlands Police Department.

“If I stayed in India, I would have joined the Indian Army. That was my goal. But when I came out here, I was visiting Market Night here once with my uncle, and I saw these young explorers, and from that day I was … this is something I want to be. That was my passion,” Bali said.

Sworn officer since 2009

The Explorer Program kicked off a career in law enforcement that allowed Bali, 36, to ascend the ranks at the Redlands Police Department to ID technician, cadet, community service officer and, finally, sworn police officer in 2009.

Because he speaks Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu on service calls about once or twice a month on average, Bali put in a request for the department’s monthly stipend for bilingual pay: $65.

The city, however, denied his request, which he first made shortly after he was sworn in as an officer in 2009. Bali didn’t make an issue of it at the time because he was a rookie and didn’t want to rock the boat.

Fourteen years later, he submitted a second request last June and was again denied. Now, however, Bali has filed a grievance and is fighting the city for what he feels is just compensation.

‘Extremely disappointed’

“I feel extremely disappointed that we’re to this point. I just want to be treated and compensated equally — like how my other peers have been treated,” Bali said Friday, Feb. 24, during a break from the first day of his arbitration hearing at Redlands City Hall.

The city says its bilingual pay policy is discretionary, and as of now the only languages that qualify for the stipend are Spanish and Farsi, commonly spoken in Iran.

Stefani Vaudreuil, an attorney retained by the city, said during the hearing that the evidence will show the city did not act in bad faith in denying Bali’s requests for bilingual pay.

“It is the city’s belief they have the absolute discretion to provide or not provide bilingual pay for any type of language and any number of persons,” said Bali’s attorney, Jacob Kalinski. “And so if they decide from their perspective that Farsi is needed, they will provide bilingual pay for Farsi, and if they decide in their discretion that Hindi is not needed, then they won’t. That’s the city’s understanding of its policy.”

Support from deputy chief

One of those in Bali’s corner is Deputy Chief Travis Martinez, who testified on his behalf Friday. He said San Bernardino County’s drug task force — the Inland Empire Regional Narcotics Enforcement Team, or IRNET, raided a house in Los Angeles about seven or eight months ago. The suspects were of Indian descent, and the IRNET officers were in need of a translator.

They first used a transcription service, but were unable to get someone to translate in the proper dialect. The IRNET officers knew about Bali, and called on the Redlands Police Department for assistance.

“(Bali) was able to provide adequate translation right there through speaker phone, which ultimately led to the seizure of a million dollars in assets — $450,000 in cash, $450,000 in bank funds, and $100,000 in gold,” Martinez said. “IRNET was very grateful for Officer Bali’s help in making sure that nothing was lost in translation in the asset forfeiture paperwork that was being filled out in that case.”

Martinez said Bali aided another police officer who needed a translator while conducting a psychiatric evaluation on someone of Indian descent. Bali conducted the evaluation and determined the individual did not meet the requirements qualifying for a 72-hour hospital hold for further evaluation, known in police lingo as a “5150.”

Comfort level

Martinez also said that when it comes to interviewing suspects, witnesses and victims of crime, it is imperative that someone speak to them in their native tongue. It establishes better rapport, trust and a comfort level that opens up the person being interviewed to speak more freely.

Bali testified that he responded to a robbery at a 7-Eleven where the clerk spoke Punjabi, and when the clerk saw that Bali also spoke their native tongue, spoke more freely, and Bali was able to get a better statement.

He said he was also asked to participate in a publicity campaign in which officers of different ethnic backgrounds were shown in a video saying “We are Redlands!” to represent diversity in the city and its workforce. The video was posted on the Police Department’s Instagram account.

The hearing is tentatively scheduled to resume on April 12, when the city’s assistant human resources director, Tommi Ng, and City Manager Charles Duggan are expected to testify.

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