WNKY Special Report: Diversity Behind the Badge

There’s hundreds of law enforcement officers and emergency personnel serving South Central Kentucky, but for some, serving the multicultural community around us is not just a job—it’s a calling.

Detective Vedad Hadzikadunic with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office has come a long way since the 13-year-old boy immigrating to the United States, but he hasn’t forgot his roots and takes pride in showing it through his work.

“I think it’s important to have officers of similar ethnicities and backgrounds to the individuals that are living in the community because it’s a lot of easier for a person to come up to an officer that has similar ethnic background,” Detective Hadzikadunic says. “They feel like they already have something in common before they even start talking to the officer.”

On the flip side—Christian Nava, a 22-year-old Bowling Green resident, Los Angeles born-and-raised, is just starting his career in law enforcement.

“I started looking into it in high school. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I want to make a difference.”

Nava, who is currently enrolled in the police academy, is determined to make a change.

“There was one incident where some Hispanics came into the [Warren County] courthouse and they were only speaking Spanish and I raised my hand and I told them “come over here” and I know that the guy even tried to hug me just because I was speaking Spanish to him. I knew I was able to help then.”

Reflecting the community isn’t just about looks, but also, language.

Amelia Bowen, the Communications Manager for Bowling Green Police Department Dispatch explains, “we frequently get calls where the citizen will speak another language other than English as their native language and once we determine that they do not speak fluent English or are having difficulty communicating with the dispatcher, we will connect them to the language line service and get an interpreter for their native language.”

Once they dispatchers connect to the Medical Center EMS, Jim Williams, their Field Operations Managers says, “once the paramedics and the EMT get on the scene, they also have access to the language line where they’ll call a special number, get an interpreter online for the particular language that’s being spoken and then they can use their phone on speaker phone. They’ll ask the patient like, “are you having chest pain?” the patient will answer and then the interpreter can overhear the answer and let us know what’s happening.”

Bowen explains the important of staying calm in those situations, saying, “you know it’s going to take a little bit longer maybe, because of the language barrier but you don’t want them to hear anything like that in your voice or detect that you might have a little bit of nervousness.”

That’s where Detective Hadzikadunic says why having a diverse force on-hand is important.

“I’ve had officers call me while I was at home and ask me, “hey can you help me translate this?” because they were helping somebody that was of Bosnian background and they just needed a translation and I always told them they can always call me, I’ll be more than happy to translate for them.”

Not having someone like Detective Hadzikadunic around on most shifts can be tricky Williams says because, “there are cultural differences as far as how we may approach the patient. There might be cultures where we talk to the male in the household even if the female is the patient, to put them more at ease.”

Cultural differences—some serving our area have to learn them—and cultural differences—some have experienced first-hand.

“Where I come from, people have different views on police than what it is here now,” Detective Hadzikadunic says, “growing up here, a lot of Bosnian community don’t really want to have any experience with law enforcement just because if other people see a police car in front of your house, they automatically assume something’s going on, we need to stay away from the family, they’re nothing but problems.”

Nava agrees— “me being Hispanic, the public just comes up and it helps out a lot.”

From someone like Nava, working their way towards being in law enforcement, to someone who has taken on the city’s streets, Detective Hadzikadunic says the main message is the importance of diversity behind the badge.

“The community here is very, very diverse so as much as we can have diversity in police and in law enforcement agencies, I think that would be better for everybody.”