Police face £2m language barrier

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POLICE chiefs have spent nearly £2 million on translation costs to help officers communicate with victims of crime, offenders and witnesses over the last six years, The Star can reveal.

Since 2005, officers, detectives and police staff have dealt with people speaking 45 languages other than English.

The list includes Albanian, Bengali, Chinese, Czech, Italian, Kurdish, Lithuanian, Polish, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Somali and Vietnamese.

Officers have also used sign language specialists to help them communicate with people with hearing impairments.

The force pays interpreters on an hourly basis for face-to-face interviews and the taking of witness statements, but it also subscribes to a specialist telephone service where interpreters for any language can be found instantly.

Between April 2005 and March 2006, the force spent £402,794.89 on translation costs, but they dropped to £315,375.03 the following year and £244,832.19 the year after according to the figures, revealed under the Star’s Your Right to Know campaign which challenges public bodies to reveal information of importance.

In the 2008/09 financial year, the force spent £290,281.52, in 2009/10 it was £342,213,45 and in 2010/11 the bill was £315,393.21, giving a total of £1,910,890.29 over the six years.

Superintendent Nick Whitehouse, of South Yorkshire’s criminal justice department, said the amount the force has to spend on translation costs reflects the diversity of modern day South Yorkshire.

“Over the last few years we have seen an influx from various parts of Europe to complement the diverse multicultural place we already had,” he said.

“The number of languages we have to make translation and interpretation arrangements for has increased because of the need for fairness in investigative procedures and in gathering police evidence.

“Whether it is a victim or an eyewitness we are interviewing it is important that they have a level of understanding.

“We have needed interpreters to help us with people from all parts of the globe.”

Supt Whitehouse added: “Modern day police officers recognise that the communities they serve are extremely diverse and that there is a need to adapt.

“There are procedures and processes in place to help them whether they need an interpreter, for a face-to-face interview, or whether they need to use the Language Line facility.

“South Yorkshire Police is no different from any other force in having to pay these costs because of the mix of languages here.”