05/17/2000

INTERPRETEC PROVIDES ON-DEMAND SPANISH-LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS

Looking at Doug Smith, it would come as no surprise to learn that he carried out several secret missions during his hitch in the Marine Corps. A slender Midwesterner, his farm-boy looks don’t detract from his aura of strength and determination. This is not a guy you want to tangle with. On the surface, his demeanor seems a bit incongruous with his side career. But in reality, Smith founded his law enforcement translation and interpretation company simply because he saw a need and decided to fill it himself. No one else was providing the arrest and processing tools necessary to carry out his police job properly, so Smith, a full-time police officer in Dublin, Ohio, took the bull by the horns and just did it. All in a day’s work, and end of story. Except that the story really begins here. Interpretec, Smith’s nascent company, provides officers with an effective means to extract critical information from their non-English speaking “clientele,” and to enable them to inform arrestees and detainees of their rights and responsibilities. “We had a lot of language barrier problems with people and needed to translate a lot of forms for DUI alcohol arrests,” Smith relates. “Also, a lot of the people we had contact with couldn’t read in any language.” So Smith developed a CD-ROM, which, he says, “turned out to be a waste of time. A CD player has moving parts and needs to draw power. The CD skips,” he adds, ticking off the problems he ran into. He has refined that initial attempt by employing a compact digital audio MP-3 player, which uses an active speaker system to amplify sound for field usage. The tracks on the player are programmed to go through the question-and-answer routine required of officers who are stopping or arresting someone. The question is read first in English, so that the officer knows what is being asked. Then it is played in Spanish so that the person being questioned can understand it. “The client responds by circling the correct answer on the corresponding form,” Smith explains. One of the questions that is asked in both languages is “Do you have any ID?” The written form that comes with the system has the question printed word-for-word in both English and Spanish, with a place for the client to indicate “Yes” or “No.” There is a learning curve in this business, Smith acknowledges. “When I first developed the forms, I had a place for clients to circle their answers. But I’ve never had a single Spanish-speaking person circle anything. They all make a check mark.” Clients can also answer verbally if they do not have the reading skills to use the forms. Interpretec’s system isn’t designed to help officers do a thorough criminal investigation or to replace an interpreter, Smith says. “It’s a cost-effective solution to getting answers to the majority of questions we ask violators in a concise and legally admissible manner.” Smith says that he set up the system to repeat the questions in both languages in order to avoid the problems that some Indiana officers ran into. An appeals court ruled that the suspects were not able to consent to the search—which resulted in a seizure of six lbs. of cocaine—because they did not speak English. The court ruled that officers are expected to inform suspects of their rights. “In court, I can say that I read Miranda off a card in Spanish, but how can I claim accuracy?” the monolingual Smith points out. “How do I determine that the individual waived his rights?” In contrast, Interpretec’s MP-3 player communicates the same way all the time. “I can play the exact same tape in court, and a jury can hear it in both English and Spanish, as well as see it written on the form. Most other devices don’t have that feature,” he boasts. The player uses a female voice because it is more soothing than a male voice, Smith says. “It sounds better to a jury—and the jury is the ultimate client,” he adds. The system costs less than $1,500 for the two-piece audio system plus a binder with five sections of state forms. The forms and audio can be customized for a particular agency upon demand. The system also includes a laminated card that allows users access to audio downloads from the Web site (www.interpretec.com), as well as one free upgrade. The binder comes with 40 forms, and the company charges a fee for additional forms. The translations come with a certificate of authenticity from a company that specializes in federal government work. For Smith, Interpretec is more than just a way to make extra money. He feels that it’s his duty to provide these services to his fellow officers. “I believe that people have a right to the information that we’re supposed to be giving them,” Smith says. “I saw too many people who were victims of a poor system. I didn’t want to stand by and let it happen.”# # #Doug Smith can be reached at Interpretec via the Web site at www.interpretec.com, or by calling toll-free 877/210-8329.
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