A brief look at methods

My motivation for developing 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.

SIPR Blog: Proximity interpreting: day-to-day policing and delivering access for deaf citizens

In December 2017 I attended the SIPR-Police Scotland Postgraduate Student conference. This annual event is an opportunity for post-graduate students who are doing research into different areas of policing to to come together and be students – present on their work, share ideas, collect feedback and learn from each other.

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SIPR Blog: Proximity interpreting: day-to-day policing and delivering access for deaf citizens.

We represented a real mix. There were students looking at technology and police body cams, how the police best handle civilians with mental health issues, how policing services respond to people with Alzheimer’s, and so on.I delivered a presentation based on my research, which considers the use of video-mediated interpreting (VMI) services in front line policing.  Part of my presentation explained the changes brought about the BSL (Scotland) Act (2015) and how public authorities in Scotland now have a duty to consult with Scottish deaf people. With the current legislation in place supporting the inclusion of BSL my research has the potential to feed into how the police determine future development of VMI services.

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@TheSIPR Tweet – Dec 15 2017

I was keen to make sure people understood the importance of consulting with deaf people and rethink how different communities could be served. To conclude… I was given the award for Best Presentation 2017 at the SIPR-Police Scotland Postgraduate Student conference. I have produced a blog summarising my conference presentation and if you would like to view the SIPR blog (in English) visit Proximity interpreting: day-to-day policing and delivering access for deaf citizens SIPR Blog. The Vimeo video above is a BSL summary of the blog. Special thanks goes to the participants who have supported my research so far.


IPCITI day 2

The second day of the IPCITI conference began with a keynote panel, Graham Turner, CTISS, Heriot-Watt University Claudia Angelelli, CTISS, Heriot-Watt University Martin Gallagher, Police Scotland Delphine Jaouen, NHS Scotland. The discussion was on ‘Interpreting theory and practice in dialogue’ and touched mainly on how theory and practice can be relevant to each other. Its an important topic that academics often reflect on because there is a desire to make research worthwhile.

Inevitably, watching this debate I was carrying out my own checks to make sure what I was doing in my PhD was relevant. My PhD is funded by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH). Part of the funding requirement is that two universities come together to form a partnership. In my case, the partnership is between Heriot-Watt University and the Scottish Institute of Police Research at the University of Dundee. Another criteria to the SGSAH funding is the inclusion of a non-academic partner, who are Police Scotland and SignVideo. It is through this collaboration an exchange is expected to happen. The sharing of knowledge and practice between all institutions.

Finally, I have joined a university that has a strong history in sharing knowledge gained through research with the community. Here at Heriot-Watt University we are part of the EdSign Lecture series and Bridging the Gap. These are examples of where research is shared with the community but also conversations with the community happen to inform research questions. In addition, I have worked on the Justisign project and Insign project where much of the research was shared in BSL and English via social media. I stepped in to an academic community that was active in making research accessible.  This inspired me to create this dedicated PhD website where information is presented in BSL and English.

This isn’t the end. We do need to keep checking our strategies and approaches with sharing research and communicating with the public. We need to constantly review how we share information and whether the messages are being fully understood.

IPCITI – Day 1


Dr Ana Frankenberg-Garcia (University of Surry) gave a really fascinating keynote presentation on how researchers are using corpora data to look and perform comparisons between texts that are not translated with texts that are translated.

This was new field to me and it was clear how corpora of texts can provide a powerful insight to how text based languages are typically expressed, especially from texts that were not translated. How words are used and sentences are designed on a large scale is mind blowing, especially when you hear Dr Frankenberg-Garcia explain her work consisting of 8,000 sentences or 100,000s words. The real joy in using corpora data, in my view, occurred when Dr Frankenberg-Garcia looked between languages to see where differences or similarities occurred. Simple examples such as ‘nowadays’ and describing where this word was typically located in English sentences with the Portuguese counterpart (initial, middle or end) or what words were collocated with the description ‘brown’ in English and Portuguese. In Portuguese it was brown dwarf (the star) or brown leather and it was not brown rice or brown hair but wholemeal rice and chestnut hair (much more creative use of language). On a basic word level there is much that can be learned and discussed.

Moving on from looking at texts that were not translated to corpora of translated texts, here researchers can look at trends to explain why a translated text does not look or feel like a non-translated text. Dr Frankenberg-Garcia gave examples of where words were under-represented or over represented, such as the word ‘that’ was used more frequently in translated in texts and obviously a higher level of borrowing. What Dr Frankenberg-Garcia also found was translators would try to maintain similar sentence structures to the original, trying not split or join sentences.

Throughout this presentation it really struck me how little research existed on translation to or from British Sign Language (BSL) or any other sign language in the world. The door is wide open to further our understanding with how translation work is being performed. How do translators work and what are the strategies used to generate translations from or to BSL. To me this is such a valuable field, especially because translators have the time to reflect and create parallel sentences or concepts. What this looks like in reality has yet to be openly discussed.

Admittedly, to our disadvantage we don’t have a software tool that can automatically code video data of BSL so researchers can analyse how signs are articulated, collocated with other signs or how sentences are structured (translated or not). This still has to be done manually and can be a real disadvantage to students

The topic of the next presentation was Google translate among translation studies students from Saadia Elamin (Prince Sultan University, Saudi Arabia). With unrestricted access to an online translation tool students can and do turn to online resources that can help them perform translation tasks, such as homework tasks. Without proper inspection and care, students can over-depend on tools like Google translate and produce translations that are contextually incorrect. Banning the use of online translation tools in the classroom was advocated, however, Saadia did acknowledge how online technology if used with an awareness of what is contextually correct can be beneficial and support learning.

Other presentations critiqued the quality produced by machine translation, which is being used to facilitate and increase productivity of translation output. My impression was that despite some level of progress in machine translation, improvements to how machine translations develop their output, the quality was still missing and unreliable. Trained human translator input or vetting was needed to restore the quality to the intended level.

Great day so far… later this afternoon the conference will look at interpreting related topics. My closing thought would be to encourage anyone interested in conducting research on translating to or from BSL to come forward with your ideas – it is needed!

“Police Investigative Interviews and Interpreting: Context, Challenges, and Strategies” by Sedat Mulayim, Miranda Lai and Caroline Norma

Police Investigative Interviews and Interpreting: Context, Challenges, and Strategies is an accessible and useful resource for police officers who are likely to undertake an interview mediated by an interpreter or for interpreters who undertake assignments in police settings. The book covers a range of essential topics, drawing on empirical research and considers both the police and interpreter’s perspectives.

Topics include:

  • An explanation of what interpreting is, the skills required, and the role of interpreters in any work context.
  • A breakdown of investigative interviewing techniques in law enforcement. The PEACE model promoted across the UK police and the US-based Reid Technique.
  • Concerns about interpreter intervention and its impact on interview outcomes.
  • The value of word-based over meaning-based interpretation in police and legal contexts.
  • Non-linguistic factors that can have an impact on the interpreting process.


Chapter 1: This chapter unpacks general definitions of and approaches to interpreting, ranging from non-interventionist to interventionist models, and why certain concepts of interpreting are not suited to an investigative interview. The linguistic and cultural challenges when transferring concepts or meaning are also explained to justify why an interpreter may be unable to comply with a particular path determined by a speaker (or signer). This chapter makes clear the rationales that define the scope and boundaries of an interpreter’s role, the interpreter’s capacity to perform, and the need for the interpreter to respect, without interference, the relationship between clients.

Chapter 2: This chapter draws largely on a collection of descriptive work, looking at how police undertake investigative interviews and touches on issues such as formulaic language, power asymmetry, interview structure, turn-taking patterns and degree of formality (especially at the interview opening and closing stages). The investigative interview is part of an upstream (Cotterill, 2002) process and therefore what is documented here can and will influence subsequent stages. What may be a revelation to interpreters is that the police have undergone broad reforms, particularly in the way in which interviews are managed. Two major police interview models are introduced in this chapter: the PEACE model (born in the UK) and the Reid model (used in North America).

Chapter 3: This chapter paves the way for subsequent chapters, looking at specific interview approaches currently promoted in policing that now challenge us collectively to rethink how interpreters and police officers understand each other, our limitations as well as our potential for flexibility, in order to ensure a fair and just process. The authors provide examples of interpreter interventions and issues relating to the professional conduct of interpreters, along with “strategies to minimize unjustified interpreter intervention and highlight those aspects that can be monitored by the interviewer to maintain control and quality of the interview” (p.45). The authors support the stance that the officer should remain in control of their interview and the interpreter should uphold a non-interventionist approach.

Chapter 4: Continuing with the discussion around how best to navigate interviews via an interpreter, the authors explore issues around linguistic transfer, the tension between a sense-to-sense or word-for-word approach to interpreting. Linguistic transfer is interconnected with interpreting style, free or literal, and comes under heavy scrutiny because the law is very much concerned with how words are expressed, intended and their meaning interpreted. This chapter provides the reader with a collection of examples from courtroom interactions and police interviews to explain how minor changes can influence the rapport between a legal representative and citizen, the consequences of reshaping an active or passive status of a sentence, and how impressions or judgements are formulated by the way someone communicates.

Chapter 5: In the previous chapters the authors explained that interpreters make strategic decisions about how to convey meaning and ideas and limit their influence where possible. In this chapter the focus moves onto other interactional features or conventions that are affected by the interpreter’s presence such as managing turn taking, overlapping speech, reflecting any non-fluency and paralinguistic features. Once again they describe how the ‘third person in the room’ changes the interactional dynamics and ask what this means, specifically for officers undertaking an investigative interview.

Mulayim, Lai & Norma highlight how the lack of research in this area has meant inadequate training and preparation of interpreters before entering the police investigation. Interpreters are sometimes unaware of the questioning tactics employed by police officers and research has shown that ignorance on behalf of the interpreter can lead to damaging outcomes (Berk, 2009; Nakane, 2014). Likewise, police officers do not have the in-depth guidance to prepare them for the atypical nature of a police interview being conducted between a spoken and signed language.

What is not covered in this book is the use of additional professionals to facilitate the interview, for example interpreters who are deaf or deaf relays. The authors throughout the book put forward a strong argument for the least amount of intervention, underpinned by training and knowledge of the investigative interview context. I see a plethora of questions and challenges raised for the team of language professionals (deaf and hearing interpreters and/or relay) who need to collectively maintain this standard and approach where there is an added communication step. Although no solutions to this have been put forward, this book can still serve as a useful reference for professional discussion and learning.

If you are currently undertaking work in police settings, or considering entering this field, it is my recommendation to study this book from cover to cover. The book is accessible and offers useful, practical guidance on how both parties may work together to achieve best practice in police interview settings. Ultimately, this book is designed to help officers and interpreters understand each other better when placed in atypical and complex circumstances.


Berk, S. (2009). Coerced confessions : the discourse of bilingual police interrogations. de Gruyter.

Cotterill, J. (2002). Language in the legal process. Springer.

Nakane, I. (2014). Interpreter-mediated police interviews : a discourse-pragmatic approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Interpreting by consent

This PhD journey has enabled me to look closely at the world of policing, introducing me to issues faced when policing a diverse population and the need to maintain legitimacy. There are clear messages being promoted from police forces across the UK and it is a message that values diversity. This shift in attitude is accepted as key to achieving cooperation and trust from different social groups; cooperation with the police is associated with better outcomes and reduced crime levels.


With every new text I read on policing diversity I find myself drawing parallels with the world of interpreting, where similar issues or concerns are being discussed as those being considered by criminologist and sociologists. Here in the UK, like most western societies, our law enforcement agencies are permitted to exist through a mandate known as “policing by consent”. It is this concept that has piqued my interest. Could it also be applied to interpreting? Interpreting by consent.

The issue being flagged by the public is that the police officer, who is of a junior rank, is likely to command the greatest amount of power. As Reiner explains, it is these rank-and-file officers who have the most direct contact with members of the public on the streets.

It is commonplace of the now voluminous sociological literature on police operations and discretion that the rank-and-file officer is the primary determinant of policing where it really counts: on the streets. As James Q. Wilson put it, ‘the police department has the special property… that within its discretion increases as one moves down the hierarchy’ (J. Wilson, 1968: 7) (Reiner, 2010, p. 116).

Reiner goes on to explain that rank-and-file officers often act in invisible conditions, away from the gaze of their supervisors. I see some strong parallels with interpreting and the challenge of accountability. How can we, the public – including people who are deaf, be confident that officers (and interpreters) are behaving ethically and appropriately? What are the public safeguards? How can we be sure the public still consent to being policed (or interpreted)? The police have introduced a number of reforms in recognition of these concerns.


The philosophy of policing by consent means the role of the police is continuously evaluated and stress tested by campaigners and the government. The police force has to continually reflect on its public status. If public trust and confidence are being diminished, what changes are needed for the police to remain a legitimate force?

The concept of policing by consent emerged through debates on how to establish a formalised police force, men in uniform tackling crime and disorder. This debate stepped up to another level when the first police force was introduced in the city of Glasgow in the summer of 1800. The Glasgow Police Bill received Royal Assent, creating the first official police force in the UK (Police Museum, retrieved 28/11/16).


The introduction of a police force in Glasgow changed the way law enforcement was organised. Men in police uniform were instructed by an approved authority to patrol the streets, bring those guilty of a crime before the magistrate and prevent crime from occurring (Living Heritage, retrieved 28/11/16). This so-called “guardians of civilians” approach to law and order had been heavily debated by members of parliament on several occasions throughout the late 18th century and early 19th century. The struggle for Georgian politicians was how to deliver a more formal and organised approach to law enforcement since the rising level of criminal activity was a matter of public concern (Metropolitan Police). The opposition to establishing a police force doubted its ability to be impartial and untouchable by corruption or manipulation. The concept of a police force gathered momentum after a long campaign sponsored by the then Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel.


Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet

5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850

Peel finally saw his bill accepted in 1829 (Metropolitan Police retrieved 28/11/16). The establishment of the Metropolitan Police consolidated support for the concept of a full-time professional policing organisation; unarmed men in uniform accountable to a government official. Nine Peelian priciples were established and became regarded as fundamental to today’s policing strategy.

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

The police force in the UK has, for some, become a national symbol of stability and security. However, this look back over the establishment of the police tells us how the police as an organisation had to earn public consent and has always had to undergo intense public scrutiny in return for this public consent to remain alive. Delivery of policing is riddled with conditions to curb the over use and unregulated use of the power bestowed on them (Reiner, 2010; Rowe, 2014).

So my question to you is… What nine “Peelian principles” should we, as interpreters, consider?  What would the core measures of our profession look like?


Parliament UK. (n.d.). Creating the nation’s police force. Retrieved 13 September 2017, from

Police Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved 13 September 2017, from

Reiner, R. (2010). The politics of the police. Oxford University Press.

Rowe, M. (2007). Policing Beyond Macpherson. Routledge.


Where and when could the police use video interpreting?

This week I am attending the British Society of Criminology Annual conference, Forging Social Justice: Local challenges, Global complexities hosted by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University.

I’ve come along to participate in some of the PHD workshops and focus on research topics that touch on police and policing. As you’ll see from this site my PhD is interested in looking at is using video mediated interpreting services (VMI) to facilitate interaction between Police Scotland and the various deaf communities in Scotland. Therefore, an important part of my research is linked to police work and doing research about the police. Familiarising myself with this field will prepare me in many ways to think about what kind of video interpreting interactions I’d like to analyse for my PhD.

For the past six months I have been finding out who are the police, what do we know about police work, how the police serve a diverse UK population and how do the police develop their professional practices to garner trust and legitimise their presences in modern day society. Coming to this conference is helping me reflect further on these points and on how I approach policing related research.

At the 2016 Scottish International Policing Conference in Edinburgh Phil Gormley (QPM), the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, explained how 80% of the force’s work is non-crime related. Police officers are in engaged in traffic control, search for missing people, anti-social behavior incidents, and assisting vulnerable people. Front line police officers are called upon to assist in unbelievable range of activities.

This range and breadth of activity is demonstrated in the Police 2026 strategy. In fact, recently Police Scotland invited the Scottish deaf communities to comment on their 2026 strategy by translating their content into BSL.  This consultation was carried out as part of Police Scotland’s engagement with the deaf communities (as described in the BSL (Scotland) Act).

For me, this webpage demonstrates the breath of work the police undertake and may give you some ideas to raise with me on where video interpreting can be used. For example do you think video interpreting could be used to

  • report an incident as a witness;
  • call for assistance;
  • report an incident and obtain a crime reference number (for insurance purposes);
  • make a statement (as a victim or witness), for example when a police officer comes to your home as part of a non-sensitive investigation;
  • facilitate a roadside interaction;
  • report a missing person;
  • report a hate crime;
  • report a domestic issue

I’d be interested to know where you think the technology can or can’t be used and why, or maybe you have actual experience of using a video interpreting service to reach the police? Get in touch if you’d like to share your thoughts or find out more about my research and participate – email



The PhD work I am undertaking looks at whether and how video interpreting could be used to facilitate interactions between the police and a deaf person who uses British Sign Language (BSL). I will begin by looking at first points of contact and progress further into other forms of police interaction to understand the potential of video interpreting and its limitations.

Video-mediated interpreting is a delicate subject as many fear this will become the default choice, replacing spoken or signed language interpreters who would currently attend in person. These concerns are mirrored among deaf and hearing people who require interpreting services. Whilst these concerns are justified, many also recognise the difficulties public authorities, such as the police, experience in locating an interpreter with the requisite spoken or signed language combination. Early stages of contact are generally unplanned and spontaneous, however, as we move further into the process, time pressures and level of demand may change. This is why video-conferencing facilities are currently being used to reach an interpreter in legal contexts. It is important to note, video interpreting is not the only option available to deaf people. Deaf Action in Edinburgh have set up a remote reporting service. As a recognisable organisations in Edinburgh, Deaf Action have trained staff who facilitate and assist with the reporting of an incident or crime to the police.

The AVIDICUS project for several years has been exploring the use of video-mediated interpreting in criminal proceedings. The AVIDICUS project was established in response to greater migration across the 28 European member states. The scale of migration of EU citizens and their legal right to an interpreter became complex and difficult to manage. For the police, it was not always predictable where and when an interpreter would be required, nor the language combinations that would be called for. Video-conferencing facilities began to be seen as an ideal solution to deploying interpreting services on an ad-hoc basis. A key concern for legal representatives was to collate independent academic evidence that could inform and guide future use of video-mediated interpreting usage in legal contexts. Reports and publications of the AVIDICUS project can be found here: AVIDICUS project. A summary of the AVIDICUS findings follows:

Video/Remote interpreting is to be avoided when (non-exhaustive list):

  • Conducting the first thorough questioning of suspects in certain judicial investigations (e.g. drug smuggling, indecency offenses, violent crimes, frontier running).
  • Interviewing vulnerable witnesses and victims.
  • Interviewing minors.
  • Interviewing psychopaths.

Video/Remote interpreting can be used when (non-exhaustive list):

  • Re-interviewing suspects in certain judicial investigations to confront the suspect with, for instance, new evidence that surfaced during the investigation, detailed questioning about a certain topic that was not sufficiently dealt with during the first, face-to-face interview, and verifying certain topics that came up during the first interview.
  • Interviewing as part of procedural issues, for instance in immigration law, and extradition procedures.
  • Re-interviewing victims or witnesses to explore certain topics in depth, and if necessary, showing a picture line-up.

(Braun & Taylor, 2012)

The recommendations listed by the AVIDICUS project tell me that we are not ready for a complete roll out of video interpreting services to facilitate all kinds of interactions with the police, especially lengthy interviews where a statement is being prepared (Braun & Taylor, 2012). Certain areas remain out of bounds for interpreting via a video link because of the lack of presence (see Moser-Mercer, 2005) and additional challenges brought on when communicating via technology. The advice leans more towards interactions that are short, such as fact checking or where the pace and flow of conversation is not harmed by an interpreter being physically located elsewhere.

During my research, I will take on board the recommendations presented in the AVIDICUS project. Different questions must be explored from the perspective of victims, witnesses and suspects. Additionally, I’m mindful that deaf people in Britain may be far more experienced and confident in receiving interpreting services via video technology. It is possible that higher levels of experience will produce a slightly different set of recommendations concerning the use of video-mediated interpreting service to deaf people in policing contexts. For example, a study by Conway and Ryan (Submitted) looked at the experiences of deaf people living in Islington who used video remote interpreting (VRI) to access their local GP (primary medical) services. The option to use VRI is offered as a standby service, where local deaf people determine when VRI should or should not be used. Decisions are made after weighing up the severity of the complaint and the urgency of the appointment. The dialogue between local GPs, local deaf residents and the VRI provider has the potential to enhance health care outcomes. It is clear that the opinions and human experiences of people relying on these services will form a vital element of this conversation, especially if we are to develop a sustainable model of remote interpreting for the future.



Braun, & Taylor. (2012). Videoconference and remote interpreting in legal proceedings. Cambridge: Intersentia.

Conway, D., & Ryan, H. (Submitted). Feeling ‘fully human’… working to reduce health inequalities in primary care through video interpreting. In J. Napier, R. Skinner, & S. Braun (Eds.), Here nor There: Research on interpreting via video link: Gallaudet University Press.

Moser-Mercer, B. (2005). Remote interpreting: The crucial role of presence. bulletin vals-asla, 81, 73-97.


PACE – Police And Criminal Evidence (1984) Act.


Many police stations, prisons and courthouses in England Wales are equipped with video conferencing facilities. These video conferencing facilities are used for a variety of reasons to assist legal representatives with their work. Video conferencing is also used to introduce an interpreter to an interaction. The interpreter could be stationed alone in another police station while a suspect and police officer are located together in a different police station. Alternatively, an interpreter could be located with a legal representative and the detainee in another location, such as a prison. See Braun & Taylor 2013 for a breakdown of configurations.

When the police look to use an interpreter via video conferencing facilities to communicate with a suspect, this must be managed in accordance with the PACE – Police And Criminal Evidence (1984) guidelines. PACE guidelines are only concerned with interviewing and arresting a suspect. PACE guidelines do not apply to witnesses or victims. Previously the PACE guidelines stipulated specific locations where an interpreter can join via video conferencing, e.g. a police station, prison or courthouse. On the 22nd of November 2016 MPs of the British parliament discussed revisions to the PACE (1984) guidelines permitting the use of interpreting services from alternative locations (see link for the full English transcript). From this alternative location the interpreter would join the interaction and provide their service. These changes to PACE guidelines come into effect this week. The proposal to change the PACE guidelines came from Barroness William’s of Trafford (The Minister of State, Home Department), following a public consultation on the PACE (1984) guidelines. These changes will only affect how police officers in England and Wales consider the use of video-conferencing when interviewing or arresting a suspect.

If a suspect risks being detained longer because of the time it takes to locate an interpreter, then the prospect of a video interpreter from an alternative location could be of real benefit. However, there are still a number of concerns that remain unclear.

  1. What is meant by ‘remote location’? Will the remote location be an ISO approved call centre or an interpreter’s private facility?
  2. Will there be vetting and approval processes to ensure the remote service is secure and set in a private location?
  3. How these changes will impact on the use of video-conferencing facilities with witnesses and victims?
  4. Providers of interpreting services are likely to favor deployment by video because it is cheaper and easier. Yet, research consistently shows a preference for an onsite interpreter from all stakeholders (Locatis et al. 2010; Moser-Mercer 2003, Mouzourakis 1996, 2006; Turner et al 2016). This is because of the visual and social cues like gestures, and other non-verbal aspects of communication. Therefore, how can we be sure the rights of the individual are not being compromised when arrested or interviewed?
  5. Will attending to technology distract from the interview process?
  6. What involvement will the public have in guiding the government’s decisions?

In this current climate where profit generation has eroded the working conditions of interpreters, particularly in the legal field, how can we be sure that quality and the rights of the individual to a fair process comes first? In my previous posting a deaf person who requested the assistance of an interpreter for a pre-planned interview was flatly declined by a police officer (see first point contact). The reason given was “we don’t have enough resources”. Clearly, the use and need of interpreters on-site is still not fully understood by police officers. Therefore, how can we be sure a future with the intention of being a “standby service” via video link will be appropriately managed by interpreter providers and police officers? Furthermore, how can we be sure the video provider is stationed in a secure and private space?


Braun, S., & Taylor, J. (2013). Videoconference and remote interpreting in legal proceedings. Intersentia.

Locatis, C., Williamson, D., Gould-Kabler, C., Zone-Smith, L., Detzler, I., Roberson, J., Maisiak, R. and Ackerman, M. (2010) Comparing in-person, video, and telephonic medical interpretation. Journal of General Internal Medicine 25 (4) 345-50.

Moser-Mercer, B. (2003) Remote interpreting: assessment of human factors and performance parameters. Communicate! Summer 2003. (accessed 24/01/2014).

Mouzourakis, P. (1996) Videoconferencing: techniques and challenges. Interpreting 1 (1), 21-38.

Mouzourakis, P. (2006) Remote interpreting: a technical perspective on recent experiments. Interpreting 8 (1), 45-66.

Turner, G. H., Napier, J., Skinner, R., & Wheatley, M. (2016). Telecommunication relay services as a tool for deaf political participation and citizenship. Information, Communication & Society, 1-18.

Other useful resources:

Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings.