Challenges of a police interpreter

Imagine a crime scene where the involved parties do not understand each other. When police officers faced with such a crime scene have to take a statement, interview a victim or suspect, or share news with a victim’s family, they often need specially trained and experienced interpreters.

Regardless of the situation, interpreting for the police is always challenging. We have therefore gathered a list of particular skills that police interpreters should possess, as useful reading for aspiring interpreters and police officers alike:

  • Flexibility: The police will often be in need of an interpreter on very short notice. In such cases the interpreter will most likely be contacted via phone or video in order to interpret ad-hoc. So being available on demand is a desired qualification to support the police.


  • The ability to stay calm: When the police takes a statement from a witness to a serious crime, the interpreter must be able to work well under stress. The interpreter has to remain unaffected by distractions on the scene and the emotional state of the witness.


  • Confidence: Keeping a cool head is also important, as interpreters might have to work in situations where they feel uncomfortable, such as interpreting in a prison. The interpreter should not become nervous, but should stay calm and conduct the session as usual regardless of the surroundings.


  • Near-native to native proficiency: A high level of language skills, essential vocabulary, fluidity, the ability to understand dialectical and cultural differences, and knowledge of slang or regional expressions, are required to ensure quick and correct interpretation.


  • Understanding of police terminology: The language needed when interpreting for the police is not a common part of the usual education program for interpreters. Those who plan on specialising in this area are required to learn particular police terminology in order to understand a situation completely.


  • Knowledge of law enforcement processes: In order to become familiar with interpreting for the police, a good starting point is to take training courses on interpreting for law enforcement. In Norway, Oslo University College offers the course “Interpreting in Complex Settings (Tolking i komplekse møter)” as a supplementary subject to their bachelor course “Interpreting for the Public Sector (Tolking i offentlig sektor)”. This course touches on the complexity of interpreting for the police. It will help to understand official processes and policies that are followed when the police arrests, interrogations, or interviews an individual.


  • Thorough preparation: When the police takes a statement after a serious crime has been committed, interpreters have to exercise total professionalism and ideally be prepared for a special and delicate situation. Depending on the case and the police officer in charge, the interpreter might receive documents upfront in order to set up the session. The interpreter should thus be prepared to study case material before the assignment to ensure a smooth session. After an interpretation sessions for the police, all documents have to be shredded, in accordance with confidentiality policies of the police and the code of ethics for interpreters.

Here are some pitfalls the interpreter must avoid, both when interpreting for the police and for others:

  • The terms “he says/she says” should be avoided: The interpreter is the voice of the witness, and must “speak from the first person (‘I'”) instead of saying  “he says that…” or “she says that…”


  • No changes to the language: The language should not be “cleaned up” by the interpreter. The interpreter should not change the original message by adding or taking away information.


  • The interpreter should not answer questions from the witness, but translate directly to the police officer: The interpreter’s job is to remain objective and only interpret what is said.


  • There should be no side conversations with the police officer or the witness: The communication must be kept transparent at all times. Both the police officer and the interpreter must put all their focus into the conversation.


  • When being remotely connected to the situation via video or phone these rules should also be followed in order to maintain professionalism.

Keeping all of this in mind, an interpreting session for the police can be conducted on a high level of professionalism. However, interpreters are not the only ones facing challenges. The police itself faces a huge bureaucratic effort to set up an interpretation session: one person books the interpreter, someone else does the assignment, and a last person takes care of billing. In order not to lose track, a systematic structure is required, and business accounts on TikkTalk for booking specialised police interpreters are a great opportunity to save time and avoid organisational hassle.

TikkTalk’s marketplace does not only provide the opportunity for police interpreters to find assignments, but also offers an Enterprise mode which is extremely handy for the police, as it fulfills all of their requirements. With TikkTalk, the police can gain quick access to a group of experienced, seasoned law enforcement interpreters.

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