The Problem with Using a bilingual Police Officer Instead of a Professional Interpreter

It’s understandable that the police department wishes to spend taxpayer dollars in a responsible way. Certified and quality professional interpreters are not cheap. Some departments might think it wise to utilize their bilingual officers to conduct interviews or interrogations.

However, there are powerful arguments for using a professional court interpreter, especially if she is certified.

  1. Impartiality: Court interpreters are not only required by the Code of Ethics to remain unbiased, but also professional interpreters are trained to be unbiased neutral parties. They serve as a relay conduit of information. Police are looking for evidence that will allow the solicitor to obtain a conviction.  Police are also trained to use whatever legal means necessary to obtain evidence.  The fact that interpreters are neutral parties (with no dog in this fight) means that equal access to justice will be preserved.  If a bilingual officer also serves as the interpreter, what if the defendant claims that he misunderstood what the officer said?


If the officer claims that the defendant admitted doing something illegal, the defendant could claim that the officer was mistaken and that his serving as both officer and interpreter is a conflict of interest. By the way, it is a conflict of interest.  To obtain an arrest, he twisted his words!  It is obvious that this could get very sticky and result in a false conviction, which could lead to an appeal that overturns the lower court judge’s ruling.


  1. Accuracy: Certified court interpreters are not only familiar with legal terminology, they are also familiar with the variety of linguistic differences in their community. If there are Mexicans, Colombians, and Hondurans in the community, each group will speak Spanish a little differently. They have their own expressions and slang. In certain Mexican states, there is an expression “se me hizo fácil” which basically means, “I just did it.” Nevertheless, if you translated that phrase literally, it would state, “it was easy for me to do.”  Those two sentences do NOT mean the same thing.  Just because an officer is bilingual doesn’t mean he will clearly understand the different cultures he encounters. Remember, he is a law enforcement officer and not a professional dedicated the linguistic craft of interpretation.


Communication goes both ways. The officer need to clearly understand the person he is interviewing, and the person being interviewed also needs to fully understand what the officer is asking.  Otherwise, there is strong foundation for a mistrial and that would be a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.


Both examples demonstrate not only the benefits but also the necessity of utilizing a certified court. Information can be relayed accurately, and you have confirmation from a trusted impartial source.

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