Transnational Organised Crime and Translation (TOCAT): Improving police communication across languages

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Politics Philosophy Lang & Comms Studies


Our societies are more diverse than ever - more than 300 languages are spoken in the UK today. This increased diversity has had a major impact for the police. Officers now have to investigate and combat organised crime 'networks' whose members communicate across multiple languages. Police therefore increasingly need translators to be able to investigate serious crimes such as people trafficking and child sexual exploitation. This involves significant challenges, including cost, number of languages, quality and the limited supply of qualified linguists.

In the Transnational Organised Crime and Translation (TOCAT) project, researchers, the police and translation providers will work together to understand and face up to these challenges. Our starting point is the need for practical guidance to help police officers and translators work together as effectively as possible. A working group has drafted official new UK guidelines for police to use when they work with translators. The TOCAT project team will conduct a trial of these new guidelines, using a 'Test, Learn, Adapt' approach. Selected police officers in the UK and Belgium will be trained to use the guidelines, then researchers will interview and 'shadow' police officers as they work to measure their effectiveness in practice, as well as any other potential needs identified by the users. This will allow us to revise the approach to make it better suited to actual needs. The Belgian trial will also allow us to test how far the approach can be 'translated' to other countries facing similar challenges, since transnational crime operates across national borders.

The main questions we will be asking are:

1. How can police work more effectively to understand and fight transnational organised crime such as people trafficking when it is conducted across different languages? In particular, how should police work with translators when victims, witnesses or suspects don't speak the same language as investigators?

2. Is the planned police approach effective in practice, and, where it is not, what can be done to enhance it?

3. What are the experiences of frontline workers (police officers, support workers, translators) when they face these new challenges, and can they help us develop a better overall understanding of transnational organised crime?

To answer these questions, two researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK, Dr Joanna Drugan and Dr Alexandria Innes, will work with two researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium, Prof. Heidi Salaets and Dr Katalin Balogh. We will draw on our established partnerships with the police and all the professional associations representing translators to design and carry out the research. The research team has decades of experience in researching translation practice in 'real-world' settings, migration, and police working with linguists, suspects and victims of crime, including children and other vulnerable groups. Dr Drugan, an expert in translation quality, will oversee the project. Dr Drugan and Dr Innes, who is an expert in migration, will conduct the UK research, working with three Constabularies and the College of Policing. Prof. Salaets and Dr Balogh, who both have expertise in interpreting in police settings, will conduct the Belgian research, working with local and federal Police.

We will focus particularly on the crimes of human trafficking and smuggling in this project. We will also focus on the impact of language challenges on frontline workers, notably police officers and translators. We will share our research findings and the tried-and-tested approach as widely as possible among police, translation providers and researchers, including making our (anonymised) data available for free. This will result in a valuable contribution to evidence-based policing of increasingly significant transnational crimes, and support further research on this important topic.

Planned Impact

At the first UK training day for police and translators in 2015, both groups called for ways to address growing language-related challenges in the context of transnational organised crime. To answer this call, the TOCAT project offers a collaboration between researchers and three types of non-academic partner: (i) police; (ii) their trainers; and (iii) translation providers, including professional associations which represent translators and interpreters.

All the above three groups will be involved as participant researchers throughout. Language is an increasingly significant challenge in combatting transnational organised crime in other countries too, so the Belgian Police will join us with the aim of ensuring the approach works internationally. The participant researchers' input will include designing research methods and goals, and sharing their own frontline experiences through questionnaires, interviews, focus groups and shadowing. Contributors will be recruited via the police project partners and the researchers' established industry connections. Our research comes when the UK police are focusing on development of relevant policy so stands an excellent chance of making an impact.

The main beneficiaries, and ways they will benefit, are:

Police: Officers will benefit from capacity building via clear proven guidance on how to engage with transnational organised crime through translators. UK and Belgian police will gain enhanced understanding of translation and confidence through training in use of the Protocol. This can save time and resources, as officers will learn how to work effectively with translators. It will also reduce risk of harm linked to failed or delayed prosecutions because of gaps in communication. Police frontline workers will have the chance to feed in to the research via focus groups, interviews and shadowing, so their experiences are incorporated in policy development, maximising usefulness.

Police trainers: The UK College of Policing and Belgian trainers will have access to researchers' expertise to develop training materials in the specialised field of translation, then to evidence on the effectiveness of the training. The College of Policing 'What Works' agenda aims to make policy and practice evidence-based, so the likelihood of impact is high here. Our participant researchers will gain understanding of the significance of evidence-based policing which will extend beyond the researchers themselves, not least because we will hold focus groups at the College where high numbers of police officers will be present.

Related beneficiaries: Police internationally (e.g. Europol) and defence/security sectors (e.g. border security staff, private security firms) face similar challenges and will benefit from a proven approach to working in translation.

Translation providers and users: Linguists, including non-specialists who translate when no professional is available, will benefit from better informed police partners who understand their needs (e.g. the time required for document translation). Our work will deliver more consistent and informed practice, and an independent reference which linguists can cite to access sufficient working conditions. The research and final conference will enable linguists to share their expertise with police outside the pressured settings in which they usually meet. More efficient access to linguists for victims, informants, witnesses and suspects will improve communication and lower waiting times (particularly important for crimes affecting vulnerable groups).

Broader context: our research will impact on national and international communities via an ambitious dissemination strategy including: sharing the approach on the 'What Works' website; authoring accessible publications for print and online media, notably those targeting linguists and security specialists; engaging with relevant professional groups and policy makers to inform understanding and practice.


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Description Our research involved compiling evidence from all those involved in police and Home Office investigative interviews conducted across languages. We conducted focus groups and interviews with over 200 participants, including specialist interpreters and translators, police officers and their trainers, and key policy makers. We discovered their principal needs and concerns in relation to working across languages, and gathered data on how far the police and linguists feel investigators are trained to address this growing requirement, particularly in relation to suspect interviews where legal requirements are understandably higher. We also tested draft versions of new police training materials and guidance in working across languages: we conducted multiple trials of training by Home Office and College of Policing staff, with both new recruits and experienced police and immigration investigators, over two years. Following transcription, coding and analysis, we revised the drafts repeatedly and integrated our findings in official College of Policing training and a police Authorised Professional Practice guidance document prior to adoption nationally for use by all investigative interviewers from now on.
In a second stage, we translated our draft materials and tested them in another national context, Belgium. This resulted in findings around how applicable guidance and training would be in other settings, supporting the College of Policing in future sharing and exploitation of the materials as a way to recoup investment and spread good practice internationally.
Finally, we organised a stakeholder conference at Europe House in 2018 bringing together policy makers, senior police officers, College of Policing representatives, Belgian police and their trainers, linguists' professional associations and representatives of the Ministry of Justice, European Commission, British Red Cross and over 20 other relevant bodies. This allowed us to share the knowledge we had gained and influence policy across the sector. Further work is planned to build on our findings and successful trial of the methodology, notably in relation to healthcare settings where communication across hundreds of languages is also needed.
Exploitation Route The College of Policing and police National Language Services Working Group are working with us to integrate our findings in their training and guidance for use nationally from 2019. A range of other police and security organisations have expressed interest in our findings for their own contexts. Our findings have lastly influenced policy and awareness nationally in government via the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Modern Languages, and an active programme of presentations and special events for the leading organisations in the sector, notably the Chartered Institute of Linguists (2018), Association of Police and Court Interpreters (2018) and Institute of Translation and Interpreting (2017, 2019).
In 2019, working with a languages sector partner which holds the Ministry of Justice contract for translation quality control, we won c. £70K additional funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to begin work applying our research findings and approach to a related challenge, translation quality in maternity healthcare. This work will begin in September 2019, with a doctoral researcher working full-time for four years to inform policy in use of remote video interpreting and telephone interpreting. We have funding for a conference for NHS stakeholders to report the findings in 2021.
Finally, we are working to secure follow-on funding to disseminate the findings of the TOCAT project among existing police and Home Office staff, via a programme of Continuing Professional Development training and events.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other

Description The main impact of this project will be reported after our testing and data collection are complete in the relevant sections of the ResearchFish site; but in the interim, unplanned impact has included: (1) an approach by the Spanish police to share insights from our data in relation to good practice in producing bilingual transcripts of police witness and suspect interviews. This resulted in the PI training Katie Belo dos Santos, a Spanish-speaking member of the Board of the UK national professional association for interpreters and translators, the ITI, in the use of our guidance and training materials. Belo dos Santos then delivered a Continuing Professional Development course for approximately 30 Spanish officers in Barcelona in December 2017. Feedback was very positive and pointed to the need internationally for effective training in this neglected area, which our project is well-placed to deliver; (2) multiple invitations for the PI to talk at events impacting the public and private sectors, including participation in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Modern Languages; keynote presentations at the AGMs of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters, the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and JIAMCATT, International Criminal Court, The Hague. Since the last update on ResearchFish, multiple further impacts have resulted, notably: (1) an invitation from Chair Baroness Coussins to lead a full session of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Modern Languages on the TOCAT research outcomes. This was held on Monday 5 November 2018 with speakers Prof. Jo Drugan (PI), and key partners Jo Taylor (Head of Training and Standards, College of Policing) and DI Jennifer Heggs (Staff Officer to Chief Constable Simon Cole, National Lead for Police Language Services. Also in attendance were the Belgian Co-Investigators, Prof. Heidi Salaets and Dr Katalin Balogh, and key participants including representatives of the Ministry of Justice. (2) Our research informed a subsequent intervention by Baroness Coussins at a session on the impact of Brexit on languages in the UK in the House of Lords in January 2019, and an important call for National Recovery on Modern Languages by the APPG in March 2019 ( (3) The Association of Translation Companies cited our research in its evidence base to ensure linguists are recognised as exempt from the government minimum income threshold for immigration purposes in March 2019. The main impact, however, lies in the use of our research as the main evidence base for the new College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice (official police guidance) and associated training for all police, Home Office and other government agency investigators form 2019.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Evidence base for new national police and Home Office training and guidance
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Our research was used to create and test new national policy and training for all investigative interviewers in the UK from 2019. This will ensure that all those using interpreters and translators in the police, Home Office and other agencies trained by the College of Policing are working with linguists in an evidence-based approach for the first time.
Description Higher Education Impact Fund (HEIF)
Amount £965 (GBP)
Funding ID 1645641-IG1 
Organisation ESRC Impact Acceleration Account Cambridge 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 12/2018
Description All Party Parliamentary Group for Modern Languages 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact APPG Chair, Baroness Jean Coussins, invited the TOCAT PI, Prof. Joanna Drugan, to lead a special session of the APPG dedicated to the research findings on Monday 5 November 2018. Jo presented the research methods and outcomes. Key project partners Jo Taylor (Head of Standards and Training at the College of Policing) and DI Jennifer Heggs (Staff Officer to Chief Constable SImon Cole, national lead for Police Language Services) also spoke. In attendance were about 10 members of the House of Lords and House of Commons, and representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Chartered Institute of Linguists, Institute of Translation and Interpreting, Association of Police and Court Interpreters, and multiple smaller groups affected by the issues explored in the project, such as British Sign Language interpreters. The Belgian co-investigators, Prof. Heidi Salaets and Dr Katalin Balogh, were also in attendance, and contributed to the discussion following our three presentations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018