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Hi-tech translator aids law enforcement

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Use of the devices is spreading throughout the country.
SPRINGFIELD, Ohio (AP) -- Deputy sheriffs will soon begin using handheld computers that translate police phrases into Spanish to help communication with the area's growing Hispanic community.
"Our challenge right now is Spanish, talking to our Latino community," said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly. "There are so many things where a language barrier could cost someone their life."
Use of the translation devices is spreading around the country. Law enforcement and other agencies are using them in Illinois, Indiana, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Clark County will be the first sheriff's office in the state to use the device, according to Bob Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association. Cornwell predicted that more sheriff's offices will begin using the devices and hiring more officers who speak second languages.
About 2,000 Hispanics lived in Springfield's Clark County in 2004, up from 1,700 in 2000 and 970 in 1990.
Hampered investigations
Kelly said he came to realize speaking different languages could hamper investigating crimes, identifying suspects and rescuing people in emergency situations.
The sheriff matched a $4,600 grant from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services to buy four of the devices and plans to put them in patrol cars, the dispatch center and the jail.
Carleton Moore, executive director of the criminal-justice office, said about 56 languages are spoken in Ohio.
"Language barriers can hinder criminal cases and endanger officers, victims, witnesses and perpetrators," Moore said, adding that the device is a first step in addressing the issue.
The handheld computer, about the size of a brick, stores common law-enforcement phrases in different languages. The phrases are pre-recorded by a native speaker so they are clearly understood.
The device also will translate from English-to-Spanish phrases that are spoken into it. It does not translate the answers law enforcers receive, so officers are encouraged to pick phrases that can be answered with a yes or no or a nod or gesture.
The $2,300 device, made by Annapolis, Md.-based VoxTec International, can be programmed with multiple languages and is being used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Police in Fort Wayne, Ind., have been using translation devices for about three years. Lt. Michael McQueen said the computers have been especially helpful in making sure that people who are questioned by police understand their legal rights.
"They give the officer control in a situation," McQueen said.