A brief look at methods

My motivation for developing www.proximityinterpreting.com was to open my own research practice as a form of engagement. My research looks at how a frontline policing services assisted by a remote interpreter come together to deal with an unplanned event. This blog comprises two parts. In this first part I summarise popular research methods for policing and interpreting studies and issues I have weighed up when looking at how I collect data for my current study. I provide a brief explanation of what I see as the strengths and weaknesses for each method and add links to further reading. In my next blog I explain how I co-ordinated the VRS and VRI calls as part of my data collection.

Authentic recorded interactions

 What is Authentic recorded interaction? Authentic recordings of police-civilian interactions are actual audio or video recordings made by the police. Examples include recordings of interviews with a witness, victim or suspect at a police station; audio recordings of 999/911/112/101 calls from the public; video recordings from a police body cam; video recordings from a handheld device, or CCTV.

Research considerations: Only a few studies have looked at authentic audio/video recorded data of police-civilian-interpreted interactions (I’ve listed a few examples below). Access to audio recordingsof police-civilian interactions is more common than access to video recorded data. When a researcher is granted access to an audio recording they must agree to remove all identifiable data (e.g. real-world names of people, places, personal details, etc). Accessing video recorded data is more complex and restricted, due to data protection. Video recordings reveal the visual identity of those involved, making it impossible to conceal or anonymise.

Whilst accessing police-civilian audio recordings is more possible, audio recording limits the level of in-depth study of police-civilian interactions. The researcher cannot see or evaluate how physical-gestural communication has shaped the interaction. For example, when there is audio silence there is still eye contact or physical communication exchange between participants.

Audio recording is far from appropriate given the nature of my research. To properly scrutinise how the police serve or interact with a deaf civilian via an interpreter unrestricted access to videoed material is required. The issue of anonymity is an ethical concern for the police (and academics). Control for storing and keeping the footage becomes a shared responsibility. These ethical restrictions of data sharing have prevented researchers like me from looking exclusively at authentic police-civilian recorded encounters.

 Further reading:Böser, U. (2013). ‘So tell me what happened!’: Interpreting the free recall segment of the investigative interview. Translation & Interpreting Studies: The Journal of the American Translation & Interpreting Studies Association, 8(1).

Mulayim, S., Lai, M., & Norma, C. (2014). Police investigative interviews and interpreting: Context, challenges, and strategies: CRC Press.

Nakane, J (2009). The Myth of an ‘Invisible Mediator’: An Australian Case Study of English-Japanese Police Interpreting.  journal of multidisciplinary international studies6(1).

Monteoliva Garcia, E. (2017). The significance of interpreting sequences in police interviews with standby interpreting. Revista De Llengua I Dret-Journal of Language and Law,(68), 100-116.

Warnicke, C., & Plejert, C. (2012). Turn-organisation in mediated phone interaction using Video Relay Service (VRS)Journal of Pragmatics, 44(10), 1313-1334.

Data Search

What is a Data Search? Day to day policing is monitored through the recorded data collected and input into police database networks. The police have a duty to record the demographic details of the people they formally engage with (age, gender, ethnicity, address) and document the types of incidences they are involved in (e.g. stop and search, hate crime incident, domestic incident, weather disruption). This data can provide some insights to policing trends, e.g. stop and search tactics, over or under policing strategies.

Research considerations: The data scrutinised is reliant on how the police officer codes and completes the police’s database. Therefore, an important question regards the level of reliability of data recorded by the officer. Can an officer properly code and identify details about a deaf person they come into contact with? The awareness of the officer assisting the deaf civilian and opportunities to distinguish between disabled vs deaf vs sign linguistic-minority? This is unlikely to be consistent or accurate. From a research perspective we cannot confidently rely on police database records to look at how deaf civilians are policed.

One further consideration is that database numbers cannot tell us about the quality or standard of frontline policing deaf people have received; for example, was a qualified interpreter engaged to facilitate the interaction or was the officer able to understand the issue at hand and respond appropriately?

Further reading

Murray, K. (2014). Stop and search in Scotland: An evaluation of police practiceSCCJR report1, 2014.

Murray, K., & Harkin, D. (2016). Policing in cool and hot climates: legitimacy, power and the rise and fall of mass stop and search in ScotlandBritish journal of criminology57(4), 885-905. 

Ethnographic approach

What is an Ethnographic approach?  In briefethnography is the in-depth description of everyday life and practice. Over a given period the researcher explores and learns the cultural phenomena of a social group from the point of view of the subjects of the study.The researcher’s own identity and background will shape how they see and report on their ethnographic journey.

Research considerations: An ethnographic approach is popular among researchers of policing because it allows the researcher to directly observe (in situ) how police interact with the public. Extensive field notes, sometimes audio, are kept to aid the researcher’s memory of events. Whilst in the field, the researcher can pose questions to key actors about certain behaviours or reflect on how or why a particular outcome occurred.

This has been successfully applied to look at how frontline police officers deal with people from different backgrounds (e.g. class, ethnicities and gender) and domains (custody, patrol, domestic violence, special investigations).

The difficulty for researchers interested in how officers deal with someone who is deaf and uses BSL is volume. Within a research timeframe, e.g. one to two years, the probability of the researcher being in the right place at the right time to observe more than one police-civilian interaction where the interaction is mediated by a sign language interpreter is hard to plan for or predict. Therefore, the ethnographic approach has limits; can the researcher observe and collect enough ethnographic data to comment and review how the police deal with civilians from a specific sector of the population?

One alternative approach is for the researcher to shadow an interpreter who is frequently called upon to work in police settings. This arrangement would need support from interpreting agencies and police forces. There are still limits to this idea, as the researcher would not then be able to comment on what the interaction was like prior to the interpreter’s arrival.

Further reading

Loftus, B. (2009). Police culture in a changing world. Clarendon Studies in Criminolo.

Jauregui, B. (2013). Dirty anthropology: Epistemologies of violence and ethical entanglements in police ethnography. In Policing and Contemporary Governance (pp. 125-153). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.


Interviews with the police/interpreters/civilians: Interviews are structured or semi-structure conversations around a particular subject. Researchers interested in individual or group experiences around a subject like “policing” can elicit detailed reflections on how interactions were experienced.

Research considerations: To date, the majority of research on deaf people’s experience with the police has been reliant on interviews with deaf people, interpreters and police officers. The problem is the subjective content and how someone’s story can change over time. Personal feelings, at a given moment, can influence and shape how people or events are described. This is not to dismiss the value of interview data but to recognise its limits and the need to compliment narrative accounts with other forms of assessment.

Further reading

Brennan, M., & Brown, R. (1997). Equality before the law: Deaf people’s access to justice: Deaf Studies Research Unit Durham, UK.

Brunson, J. L. (2007). Your case will now be heard: Sign language interpreters as problematic accommodations in legal interactions. Journal of deaf studies and deaf education.


What are simulations? Simulations are staged interactions where volunteers or actors are provided with a script or synopsis. Although the situation is not real the task actors are given to perform is played out in real-time and can offer a glimpse into what may happen in the real world.

Research considerations: It is not normal practice for research into policing to rely on simulated data. Stimulated data is treated with caution because there is preference that any comment on policing relates to lived or actual experience. How someone behaves in a simulation is argued to be different from a real-life encounter. Simulated data risks being viewed as unrealistic, generated and not reflective of actual interactions.

This perception has been challenged by interpreting studies where simulations have been used to observe how the interpreter performs. This is because, as people attempt to interact with each other, the interpreter still has to respond and perform as an interpreter – for them their work is live rather than simulated.  Simulations are often used in interpreting studies because accessing authentic interactions is a challenge and can be invasive. Permission from everyone involved is required and the presence of a researcher and cameras recording the interaction may impact on the way people behave, even in authentic situations. Another point of consideration for simulations is, how to critique the performance of the doctor, lawyer, police officer in working with an interpreter and serving someone from another linguistic background?

Further reading

Braun, S., & Taylor, J. (2012). Videoconference and Remote Interpreting in Criminal Proceedings. Intersentia.

Napier, J. (2011). Here or there? An assessment of video remote signed language interpreter-mediated interaction in courtAVIDICUS report. Guildford: University of Surrey.

Shaping the Interpreters of the Future and of Today (Shift): Report 2. Remote Technologized Interpreting (Telephone-Based And Video-Based Remote Interpreting): Main Features And Shifts With On-Site Bilateral Interpreting


The methods listed above may be combined to collect different types of data for comparison around the same question. The mixed methods approach to understanding a particular area of police-civilian interaction is common practice in both policing and interpreting studies. In my follow up blog I will explain how I developed seven simulated police-civilian interactions assisted by a remote sign language interpreter with focus group discussions.