Police officers, health professionals and educators help non-English speakers and address cultural differences more often as minority populations in the county continue to increase.
In 2013, about 91.2 percent of residents, nearly 137,000 people, in Johnson County were white, down slightly from 92.4 percent in 2010. Johnson County is the fourth-most-diverse county in central Indiana, trailing Hendricks, Hamilton and Marion counties. Between 2010
and 2013, the percentage of minority populations increased in all eight counties.
The number of residents identified as members of a racial minority, including black, Asian, Hispanic and more than one race, grew by about 2,200, or 21 percent, in the past three years. By comparison, the number of white residents increased by 3,500, or nearly 3 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
As the county has become more diverse, more translators are needed for emergency calls, and programs to teach English as a second language have been expanding. At one local hospital, for example, an employee was hired specifically to work with the increasing Burmese population on the southside, helping them make the cultural transition to the U.S. Population growth in central Indiana is typically connected to jobs because Indianapolis and the surrounding counties have a wider availability of jobs than other parts of the state, Indiana Business Research Center demographer Matt Kinghorn said.
Minority groups generally are younger, and younger people are more likely to relocate to an area seeking work. The younger population segment also is growing more quickly as they have children, he said.
Families living in Indianapolis also move to suburban communities when they look for bigger homes or different schools, which would increase the population in Johnson County and the others surrounding Marion County, Kinghorn said.
One of the biggest issues with a more diverse population is in language barriers with new residents who might not speak fluent English, local groups and organizations said.
The number of students in the English-learning program through the Johnson County Public Library has continued to grow, which led the library to add conversation groups, adult learning center assistant Pam Caito said.
Students can meet informally and speak English to one another with guidance from a teacher.
Currently, 29 people are paired with English tutors, who work one-on-one with a person to teach the language, and the program has a waiting list of nine, Caito said.
The conversation groups allow people on the waiting list to practice speaking and offer an opportunity for a student to speak outside meetings with a tutor, she said.
The learning center launched the groups about two years ago, and at least 10 people attend each week, Caito said. Participants come from multiple ethnicities, so speaking English is the only way that people from Spain, Japan and Burma can communicate when in the same group, she said.
“We did have an increase, and that’s how we were able to keep these students occupied until we get them a tutor. Our classes have been going strong, and new people come all the time,” Caito said.
Translators at Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis hospital have been used more frequently as the local Hispanic population has grown during the past 20 years, spokesman Joe Stuteville said. The hospital also has seen an influx of Burmese and Indian
populations on the southside and northern Johnson County. When you walk around the hospital, you’ll see signs in English, Spanish, Hindi and Burmese, he said.
St. Francis has worked to make the cultural transition easier for Burmese patients by hiring a nurse from Burma who does outreach to other Burmese immigrants,
Stuteville said. Having patients interact with someone from Burma who speaks their language makes them more comfortable.
The nurse can then explain some cultural differences in medical care, such as dentists or specialists that they might never have had access to before, he said.
When a person isn’t familiar with the U.S. and doesn’t speak English, that can make it difficult for police to help in an emergency or even a routine traffic stop, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
For example, police attempted to stop a driver who was from Japan, but he wasn’t stopping because even though he saw the red and blue lights he didn’t understand the deputy was trying to get him to stop, Cox said.
He didn’t get into additional trouble once he explained why he didn’t stop immediately, but a deputy can’t know in that moment if it’s a misunderstanding or someone trying to elude police.
The sheriff’s office doesn’t have translators on-call, so when conducting traffic stops or investigating a call, such as a fight in a neighborhood, deputies may have to call other officers or local residents who understand Spanish, Cox said. When booking a person into the jail, the staff may get help from other inmates to translate, he said.
Those kind of translations are used to get through minor incidents, but in cases where someone has been arrested or is a key witness to a crime, he has to get a translator approved by the local courts to make sure they get an accurate translation, Cox said.