TOCAT - Transnational Organised Crime and Translation

Research Institution / Organisation

University of East Anglia

In Collaboration With

Leuven University (Belgium), College of Policing, partner constabularies in England and partner forces in Belgium

Principal Researcher

Dr Joanna Drugan

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

November 2016

Research Context

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.

The main questions we will be asking are:

  • How can police work more effectively to understand and fight transnational organised crime such as people trafficking when it is conducted across different languages? In particular, how should police work with translators when victims, witnesses or suspects don’t speak the same language as investigators?
  • Is the planned police approach effective in practice, and, where it is not, what can be done to enhance it?
  • What are the experiences of frontline workers (police officers, support workers, translators) when they face these new challenges, and can they help us develop a better overall understanding of transnational organised crime?

We will focus particularly on the crimes of human trafficking and smuggling in this project. We will also focus on the impact of language challenges on front line workers, notably police officers and translators.

Research Methodology

​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. Up to 150 police officers from three partner forces and agencies in the UK, and further volunteer officers from partner forces in Belgium, will be trained to use the guidelines, then researchers will interview and ‘shadow’ 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.

We will use mixed quantitative and qualitative methods, including questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, observation and ethnographic interviews/shadowing.

Interim reports and publications

Date due for completion

December 2019
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