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.