As the U.S. becomes more and more homogenous, it is imperative that we, as examiners, realize that circumstances will present themselves on a more regular basis that will require the use of an interpreter to conduct a CVSA exam.
As you will find out when the time comes (or you already have), good interpreters are hard to find. If at all possible, get a paid professional interpreter for the interview. If your department will not authorize payment for a professional, you may have to use another officer for translation. If this is your only option, make sure the officer understands that they are to interpret word for word what you and the subject are saying to each other. Often times, the non-professional interpreter gets caught up in listening to the story and falls behind in the translation. Also, other officers (particularly detectives) think they understand the facts of the case and believe the interview should be going in a different direction. This leads to them to start asking the questions that they would ask if it were their investigation. Instead of translating the subject’s statements verbatim, the “interpreter” begins to use his/her own words to describe what they “think” that either you or the subject is “trying to say”. This is detrimental to every investigation.
The power of the examiner to control the interview is of utmost importance. He/she cannot control the interview if the interpreter is stating what they “think” the subject is saying instead of his statements exactly as he/she is making them. Additionally, officers/detectives bring their own biases and personal opinions into each investigation, particularly those involving abuse of women and children. Those biases could seriously damage the examiner’s rapport with the subject, especially if the interpreter’s demeanor is accusatory or less than friendly. Make it clear to the interpreter that he/she should remain as detached and unemotional as possible throughout the interview and examination.
On several of the occasions in which I have had to utilize an interpreter, the subject spoke Spanish. I speak quite a bit of Spanish myself and was able to determine if the interpreter was relaying the subject’s statements verbatim and I was able to steer the interview back in the appropriate direction when they digressed. In all of the exams, I had the interpreter sit behind the subject. I explained to the subject, that if he/she had any questions at all, they should address them to me directly. I also explained that they should look at me during the examination.
When examining individuals that speak any number of languages (Spanish, Chinese, etc.), it is important to determine what dialect of the language they speak. We are all aware that people from different countries use a variety of words to describe the same things. Some language is universal to most Hispanics, some is not. And, many Chinese dialects are specific to different regions of the country and many Chinese speakers can’t speak to each other without using some other universal language. Be specific about the meaning of specific terms, especially body parts.
It is also important that the interpreter knows how to read the language in questions. Print or write out the questions in English and then have the interpreter write the questions in the alternate language. This way, they also have a written guide to use during the examination.
Review the questions alone with the interpreter prior to the exam so that you can familiarize yourself with their cadence and recognize the end of each question when they ask it. Be sure to remind the subject to wait until you finish the question before answering. This will also give you time to catch up if you fall behind.
Some of the examiners here at the Miami-Date P.D. (we have 10 CVSAs and 25 examiners) feel that you should have Spanish speaking examiners do all the examinations for Spanish speaking subjects if possible. We all know that interview skills are one of the most (if not the most important) part of the CVSA examination. And, the investigator must have complete confidence in the skills of the examiner. It may not be practical to hand over an examination to a less experienced interviewer, or one with no experience in the area of concern. The decision to utilize an examiner that speaks the language should always be made on a case by case basis.
For the most part, I have not had many difficulties conducting exams in a different language. However, if you do have difficulties, I am confident that a little practice with an interpreter in mock situations will build your confidence and prepare you to successfully conduct third-party CVSA exams.
“Detective Lisa Morales has been with the Miami-Dade P.D. for 30 years and currently is assigned to the Special Victims Bureau. Detective Morales has been a CVSA examiner since March 2000.”
Reprinted with permission.