Just dial 1-800-528-5888. Ask for the language you want, and a live translator comes on the line to serve you in any one of seventy seven languages. You can conference call, use two phones on the same line, or you can simply pass the phone back and forth to the person with whom you wish to converse.
It's simple! It's Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And It's *@^&% expensive! If you use The Language Line as an unsubscribed individual it costs between $4.15 a minute (for Spanish translations) and $7.25 a minute (for less common languages such as Urdu, a principle language of Pakistan). Unfortunately, this is clearly not a service you can use on a daily basis to chat with your neighbor.
But for community emergency services there is a subscription rate that brings the service within a feasible range. Using The Language Line translation at the subscription rate costs $2.20 a minute.
The major police departments of Sonoma County subscribe to The Language Line. But do they use it?
At many crime scenes, there are usually friends, family members, or neighbors nearby who can help translate to police for monolingual crime victims. Often a youngster steps in and does a fine job of translating, just as they are accustomed to translating to landlords, merchants, and many other daily communication needs of monolingual parents and neighbors. For better or worse, police have relied heavily on this language survival for as long as America has had immigrants.
With rape and domestic violence, however, another whole set of considerations comes into play that makes this traditional reliance on translations by people at the scene highly detrimental to the woman and her case.
Domestic violence and rape victims are typically extremely protective about keeping the raw details of these crimes from their children. And for many good reasons, they are also very reluctant to reveal details to neighbors. And it's accurate, complete details from the victim that are exactly what police need to make these cases stick.
Quoted statements made by these victims at the scene, much more so than in other crimes, are always key evidence at prosecution time.
In addition, statements made at the scene carry heightened credibility compared to statements made further down the line. Further, any attempts to make later corrections are often used by the defense to undermine the victim's credibility. Yet despite the heightened importance of obtaining precise victim statements at the scene, few police make the call to The Language Line. As a result, domestic violence and rape victim statements from non-English speaking victims at the scene are often inaccurate and almost always harmfully understated.
Police should be encouraged to use the The Language Line for all rape and domestic violence victim statements when the officer doesn't speak the victim's language.
What about the $45 to $70 cost for a 20 to 30 minute call to get an accurate, unguarded statement from a victim?
If you think about it, this cost is minimal compared to the cost of returning over and over again to the same unresolved crime scene. It's minimal compared to the cost of an unchecked rapist escalating his crimes from one women to the next. And minimal compared to the lifetime of costs of children who are exposed to violence in the home.
In fact, even $100 dollars to do it right the first time is very low compared to most other standard investigative tools police police use to solve other crimes, such as the expensive forensic tests routinely used to make a drug case.