Surrey rolls out foreign-language custody system

Surrey Police has helped to develop foreign language ‘translation’ software specifically for use in custody suites.

May 30, 2013
By Paul Jacques

Surrey Police has helped to develop foreign language ‘translation’ software specifically for use in custody suites.

The solution is based on Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) guidelines and incorporates elements such as medical questions, risk-assessment and dietary allergies.

After extensive trials, Surrey Police is now rolling out the system to all its custody facilities including the new 24-cell facility in Salfords when it opens in October.

Estimates vary on the combined known and hidden costs of public-sector translation and interpreting, with some reports putting the cost as high as £180 million a year – more than £25 million a year spent by police forces alone (according to the Daily Telegraph).

The system operates in any language and allows the force to process non-English-speaking detainees into custody at a fraction of the cost (and time) of doing this with an interpreter. The system is always instantly available, removing interpreter set-up and waiting times, and aims to process around 95 per cent of cases entirely automatically.

Surrey Police worked with the UK-based multi-lingual software solution provider CommSOFT Ltd to develop the custody suite-specific content for the company’s Language Assistant software.

It is used ‘live’ alongside the force’s custody-record system (with no integration requirement) and can produce written records of conversations for confirmation and record-keeping.

“The system has minimal set-up cost and aims to reduce our overall costs for these processes by around 70 per cent”, said Chief Inspector Santi Gil, Surrey Police’s head of custody

He added: “It’s also automated and so reduces the overall amount of time it takes officers to process a non-English-speaking detainee.”

Neil Coulson, CommSOFT’s CEO, explained: “While the content developed by Surrey Police is specific to custody, the system is entirely general-purpose and can be used to deliver many processes that currently involve the use of interpreters.”

This could include police station front desk and vehicle impound-release.

“Many other forces are now looking at implementing the system for custody, as well as for a range of other purposes,” said Mr Coulson.

The system uses real human translations rather than ‘computer translations’ so users can be confident that exactly the right phrases, words and terms are being used in their conversations. These are done only once and are then used to deliver processes repeatedly (for each detainee), which is how much of the cost reduction is achieved. Processes can be as simple or as complex as the situation requires.

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