Interpreting costs worry the police

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Norwegian police are struggling with the cripplingly high cost of hiring interpreters.  They say it is eating into their annual budgets, leaving them short of funds for criminal investigations. They are now hoping that the Justice Ministry, which oversees Norway’s state police, will take over these costs.

The police hire interpreters whenever they need translation, for example when questioning suspects from foreign countries, speaking with victims of crime or carrying out surveillance work. The costs are unpredictable, because interpreters usually need to be hired on the spot, as and when they are needed.  Costs are also on the rise, averaging NOK 5 million annually for the last three years.

May cut into surveillance
Einar Aas, head of the organized crime section for the Oslo Police District, believes the large sums paid out for interpreting could lead to a lack of funds in other high-cost but essential work, such as surveillance of criminal gangs.

“There’s a danger that the police will have to cease their operations to uncover extensive criminal networks, precisely because they know how high the costs will be,” Aas told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Tor Klepper, assistant chief of police in the Østfold district, southeastern Norway, wishes the interpretation costs could instead be covered centrally, by the Justice Ministry. His wish is shared by the Hordaland Police District in western Norway. Hildegunn Havsgård, head of the criminal prosecution section for Hordaland, points out that DNA analyses began being financed centrally in 2009, so there is the possibility for this to also happen with interpreting services. The ministry has now told NRK that they will conduct a review of  interpreting practices.

Regulatory issues loom
Another aspect of interpreting that has been of recent concern to authorities is that current regulations do not require interpreters to have a police check in order to practice. This has raised questions around security and confidentiality, particularly in criminal trials, where interpreters are often used and have access to highly sensitive information.

A government report produced in 2005 suggested changes to how the profession is regulated, but many of these have yet to be implemented. The interpreting services are also asking for changes, reported NRK.

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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