The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in an effort to increase the success rate of criminal cases, is considering the possible use of Ebonics experts to bring things into perspective.

According to the Associated Press, federal authorities are considering hiring nine people for the DEA’s Atlanta office who are fluent in Ebonics, African American vernacular English, to help them, in essence, understand the language of drug dealers during wiretapped conversations, according to an Aug. 24 posting on the website The Smoking Gun.

“They saw a need for this in a couple of their investigations,” DEA special agent Michael Sanders said, confirming the listing of Ebonics among 113 languages among which the DEA is seeking operational fluency. “And when you see a need – it may not be needed now – but we want the contractors to provide us with nine people just in case.”

Surprised to hear of the tactic, Hilary Shelton, spokesman for the Washington, D.C., bureau NAACP, said the move raises concerns.

“One would be how accurate is someone going to be trying to decipher what’s really slang — which is being utilized regularly in communities and which is ever-growing and changing,” Shelton said. For instance, “When we go back and look at the word bad, which usually means wrong or not good, in our communities at one time it meant that something was very trendy or positive.”

Shelton added that while the DEA is very detailed and effective at what it does, it needs to keep in mind that such terminologies are always changing to take on new meanings.

He questioned what would happen during the forging of a prosecution’s case. “Are they going to have an accurate assessment of what was said, and quite frankly of what was meant,” he asked.

Sanders added that of course the translations would have to hold up in court.
“You need someone to say, ‘I know what they mean when they say ‘ballin’ or ‘pinching pennies,'” he said.

According to a WSB TV broadcast report in Atlanta, there’s worry among critics that the DEA’s actions could set a precedent.

“Hiring translators for languages that are of questionable merit to begin with is just going in the wrong direction,” Aloysius Hogan, the government relations director of English First, a national lobbying group that promotes the use of English, said in an interview.

“I’m not aware of Ebonics training schools or tests. I don’t know how they’d establish that someone speaks Ebonics,” he said. “I support the concept of pursuing drug dealers if they’re using code words, but this is definitely going in the wrong direction.”