15.250 - Interpreters/Translators

Effective Date: 9/15/2016


Our Department values exceptional responsiveness to special community needs, and equal protection in its service to all citizens. Whenever possible, sign language interpreters or a non-English translator shall be utilized when dealing with deaf persons or persons who are non-English speaking.

RCW 2.42.120(4) mandates when a law enforcement agency must provide sign language interpreters.

I. Definitions

A. Deaf: A person who has profound hearing loss and most often uses sign language.

B. Deaf-Blind: A person who is deaf and has significant vision loss. (Deaf-Blind use tactile interpreters, which sign in the palm of the hand).

C. Hard of Hearing: refers to people who have moderate to severe hearing loss but do not traditionally use sign language.

II. Contact with Deaf Persons

A. Interpreters will be used:

1. When interviewing a deaf person as a witness, victim, or suspect concerning a criminal investigation, or

2. When conducting a criminal investigation involving a minor child as a witness, victim, or suspect and the parent(s), guardian, or custodian is deaf.

B. If a deaf person is arrested, the arresting officer shall arrange at the earliest time for a qualified interpreter for notification of rights, warnings, interrogation, or the taking of a statement. The Seattle Police Department has an obligation under Federal law to offer an interpreter to the arrestee without cost and that the agency will defer interrogation pending the appearance of an interpreter.

C. No Department employee who has responsibilities other than interpreting may be appointed as a qualified interpreter.

D. Use of an Intermediary Interpreter [RCW 2.42.120(4)]

1. An intermediary interpreter is a person who uses specific signs and gestures instead of actual sign language.

2. If the communications mode or language of the deaf person is not readily interpretable, the interpreter or deaf person shall notify the appointing authority who shall appoint and pay an intermediary interpreter to assist the qualified interpreter.

E. Responsibility for Interpreter Costs

1. When conducting a criminal investigation, the law enforcement agency shall pay for a qualified interpreter throughout the investigation in the following circumstances:

a. Interviewing a deaf person, whether as a victim, witness, or suspect, or

b. Interviewing a minor child whose parent, guardian, or custodian is deaf, whether as a victim, witness, or suspect.

F. Resources

1. All Field Units in need of sign language interpreter services should make their requests through the on-duty Chief Dispatcher.

2. Detective Units wishing to make appointments for interpreter services can contact the designated interpreter service during normal business hours. To locate interpreters, contact the Chief Dispatcher in the Communications Section.

3. When communications personnel receive a 911 call from a deaf person and the call requires the dispatch of patrol units to conduct a criminal investigation, the Communications Section will automatically contact an interpreter to respond. The Officer responding to the investigation will be notified via voice transmission that an interpreter will be enroute. Field Units desiring to cancel the response of an interpreter through Radio will normally require a field supervisor’s approval.

G. The Seattle Police Department’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Resource Guide (form 20.3) provides officers a quick reference when encountering the deaf or hard of hearing.

III. Interview and Interrogation of Non-English Speaking Persons

A. Ask the person if they understand, read or write English. Ask the person what their native language is and if they can speak, read or write in their native language. Document that these questions were asked and the response the person gave in the General Offense Report.

B. Request an employee who speaks the person’s native language. Avoid casual use of persons at the scene to translate during interrogations. Current case law has disallowed admission of suspects’ statements into court if the translation was done by a person at the scene.

1. The Communications Section maintains a current list of employees who can speak foreign languages.

C. Use the Voiance for interpreting if a Department employee is not available to translate.

D. For Spanish speaking persons, advise them of their Miranda rights from the SPD Explanation of the Constitutional Rights (Spanish version) (form 9.28.4), available from the Quartermaster. Have the person read the form out loud and sign the form to ensure they fully understand the rights and warnings. Document this in the General Offense Report.

1. For DUI incidents, use the Spanish version of the Implied Consent Warning (form 8.4). Have the subject read and sign the form to ensure they fully understand the warnings. Document this fact in the DUI paperwork or, if completed, the General Offense Report.

E. Voiance Interpreter service is also available for officers when interviewing non-English speaking citizens. The Voiance is a 24-hour service and provides translation in 140+ languages. To use Voiance:

1. Patrol officers shall dial 625-5011. Detectives shall dial 1-866-998-0338, provide account number 22108 and their unit’s assigned PIN.

2. When the operator answers, state:

a. Your name

b. Serial number

c. Unit number or call sign,

d. Your request to be connected with Voiance, and

e. The specific language you need translated. (If the language is not known, then say “unknown”, and follow this with general information such as “Asian” or “East Indian”, etc).

3. For patrol officers, the SPD 911 Center operator will dial Voiance. When the Voiance central operator answers, the SPD 911 operator will identify which agency is calling, what language is requested, and your serial number. The SPD 911 operator will then disconnect from the conference call.

4. The Voiance central operator will connect you with the appropriate interpreter and will then withdraw from the connection. The interpreter will give you their identification number.

a. Officers must inform all parties (through the interpreter) that the call is being recorded. Also state the current date and time, and the telephone number you are calling from. This is a matter of providing notice, not of requesting consent. If necessary, the tape recording can be subpoenaed.

b. Tell the translator the exact information you need.

c. When the translator has received your request (and if you are not using conference calling, on two phones, or a speaker phone) give the phone to the subject.

d. When the translator has obtained the information, they will instruct the subject to return the phone to you.

e. The translator will relay the information to you and await further requests.

f. When you have concluded your use of the service, say “end of call.”

5. Include the following details in the General Offense Report:

a. The telephone number that you made the call from,

b. The starting time of the call,

c. The ending time of the call, and

d. The language of the subject.