Transcription, translation and the death of distance

     The delivery of municipal services is a daunting task. Demands for service are increasing. Municipalities are also subject to a variety of state and federal mandates. These often require cities to provide more services with the same or fewer resources.

     Against this backdrop, law enforcement agencies are searching for ways to leverage its expertise and budgets. Technological innovation has always been a proven means toward that end. Law enforcement has come a long way since the Albany (New York) Police Department embraced the telegraph in 1877; the Washington, D.C. Police Department installed telephones in its precinct houses in 1878; and the Detroit (Michigan) Police Department began using one-way radios in 1928.

     Commenting on the emergence of today's Web-based technologies, the editors of "The Economist" magazine have proclaimed, "the death of distance." The use of the Internet for transcription and translation outsourcing illustrates this point. Someone sitting at a desk can securely, confidentially and quickly transcribe interviews occurring hundreds of miles away. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies, both large and small, can benefit from this most basic of Internet innovations.

     According to Karen Montgomery, an investigative assistant with the Idaho State Police, outsourcing has been an asset to her department. She adds that "It allows our support staff and detectives to focus on their actual assignments, leaving transcription to other professionals."

     Maj. Phil Deeds, commander of the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Denver (Colorado) Sheriff's Department, understands the integrity of the investigatory process is essential. He notes that "the importance of security, confidentiality and a fast turnaround can't be over emphasized."

     Montgomery echoes Deed's sentiments and concern in confidentiality. Investigating this matter, her agency spoke with other agencies already utilizing the proposed vendor. "We felt that confidentiality was no longer an issue," she says.

Price, ease-of-use and time

     The development of secure and confidential Internet technology has led more and more law enforcement agencies to adopt outsourcing. Furthermore, it is easy to use and costs less — with savings beginning immediately. No up-front investment is required.

     Of course, price is only one of many considerations. Agencies are also concerned with ease of use.

     Montgomery's experience with Web-based transcription outsourcing has been positive. "If you can use the Internet, you can outsource transcription," he says.

     User-friendly outsourcing will become increasingly important as fewer qualified transcriptionists face increased demand for transcription and translation, both of which are rising at double-digit rates. Likewise, the cost of keeping transcription and translation in-house will soar, placing more demands on limited budgets.

     Capt. Doug Christiansen of the Cape Coral (Florida) Police Department Investigative Services Bureau says, "Our staff can't keep up with rising demand, which has doubled in the last five years. We don't have sufficient internal support staff to handle our increasing transcription needs."

     Even though Web-based technology has demonstrated its ability to absorb skyrocketing demand for transcription and translation — and also cut costs, the adoption of innovative technologies with demonstrable benefits can be frustrated by diminished workforce competencies. The simplicity of the technology negates these kinds of internal shortcomings.

     Deeds describes his department's transition to Web-based outsourcing as "seamless" with no problems other than the occasional operator error. Sheryl McCart, an investigative assistant in the Investigative Services Bureau of the Florida Cape Coral PD had similar positive experiences. "The transition to Web-based transcription outsourcing went smoothly," she says.

     According to Lisa Shupe, a criminal records technician with Washington's Klickitat County Sheriffs Office, outsourcing is an efficient way to expedite transcription.


     Internet outsourcing also requires law enforcement agencies to make adjustments that permit new routines to become standard practice. An organization's history of incorporating new technologies can represent the agency's will to adopt future innovation.

     Of course, while some employees embrace the changes that technology inevitably brings, others resist it. Often, their resistance is a reflection of the misunderstanding of how the new change will be implemented and what affect it may have.

     For example, staff members intuitively know that innovation means they will have to learn new skills. Others are resistant to Web-based technologies because they are not aware of how their peers in other agencies are using similar innovations to their own advantage.

     Fear of potential job loss is another concern. However, outsourcing's efficiency gains do not come at the expense of hired employees. In her agency, McCart assures that, "Existing staff already had plenty to do. No jobs were lost."

     And, according to Montgomery, her department's existing transcribers used to be detectives and support staff. "After outsourcing, they remained in their current positions and no one lost their job," she adds.

     The same held true in the Klickitat Country Sheriffs Office. "Outsourcing took pressure off our existing employees [and] … enabled them to focus on their real jobs," says Shupe.

Viewing innovation differently

     Setting its demonstrable benefits to one side, personal attitudes toward technological innovation vary. Gender and age can also play a role in an employee's perception of the positive and negative ramifications of new workplace technology.

     For example, some studies suggest males have a positive attitude toward computers regardless of their level of familiarity. Conversely, female outlooks become more positive as they become more familiar. Likewise, older adults are less likely than their younger peers to use a computer unless there is a perceived need to do so. They do not respond as well to change unless such change is gradual over time.

     Contrary to conventional wisdom, Christiansen sees no relationship between age and the successful adoption of new technologies. "In fact, our detectives and investigators, the people using Web-based outsourcing, tend to be older than our patrol officers," he says.

     Still, an individual's attitude toward new technology can be influenced by their peers. And, past experience can play a dominant role in the formation of their attitude toward change. An individual's perception of innovative technology can affect their willingness to adopt it.

     Historically, and to their detriment, managers and vendors have tended to focus on the benefits of new technology without addressing its possible negative consequences for those it affects. Conversely, successful vendors of transcription and translation outsourcing recognize that higher adoption rates occur when employees are directly involved in the nuances of the adoption process.

Piecing the puzzle together

     Another obstacle to the broad-based adoption of proven technical innovation is the fragmentation of local law enforcement agencies. Nationwide, nearly a million police officers and support staff are divided among several thousand independent agencies. Most of these agencies employ fewer than two dozen officers, yet they investigate nearly all crimes nationwide.

     This fragmentation is said to reflect a general societal belief that independent control of local law enforcement is more important than creating centralized standards that risk the unintended creation of a national police force. This makes law enforcement a difficult market to reach, a fact that tends to inhibit the adoption of Web-based outsourcing.

     This predicament is aggravated by the limited budgets that can go hand-in-hand with small police departments. Smaller agencies purchase less and do so less often than larger agencies. And, regardless of their relative size, police departments spend the bulk of their resources on staffing and other employee-related expenses, limiting the dollars available for Web-based transcription and translation outsourcing.

     Furthermore, different law enforcement agencies absorb new technologies at differing rates because most agencies are too small to evaluate the technologies offered to them by outside vendors.

     Absent any in-house expertise, and in light of a slew of stories extolling the pitfalls of purchasing unproven technologies, agencies are afraid to adopt new innovations or turn to outside vendors for assistance. This is unfortunate given the fact that the value of secure Web-based outsourcing has proven itself efficient, accessible and affordable.

A proven alternative

     Setting these acknowledged benefits to one side, Web-based innovations are only desirable if law enforcement agencies can use them to solve the problems they were purchased to address. This is true whether a department wants to augment its criminal and internal affairs investigations, improve its patrol reporting function or speed up the dissemination of information to other law enforcement or criminal justice agencies. Outsourcing can also absorb unpredictable peak demands for both.

     Outsourcing is an established means to many desirable ends and transcription and translation outsourcing are leading that charge. Additional benefits of outsourcing are to reduce delays, improve quality and reduce cost to the attendant; as well as eliminate the need to recruit, hire, train, secure clearances for, provide facilities for and pay overtime and benefits to additional staff.

     Outsourcing enables departments to meet the rising transcription demands in lieu of hiring more staff. "With outsourcing, we save money — fewer salaries and benefits have to be paid," says McCart.

     Deeds summarizes the prevailing view among outsourcing law enforcement agencies: a quick turnaround on transcription orders, the security of the technology, the confidentiality of the process and responsive customer service. He adds a single lament: "My only regret is that we didn't make the transition to Web-based outsourcing sooner."