The Police Interview Part 1

An Interview with DC Kim Bowen (Cambridgeshire Constabulary)

Detective Constable Kim Bowen has been a police officer with Cambridgeshire Constabulary for over 29 years. The majority of that time she has spent working as a Detective, with over 15 years experience working on Major and Serious Crime, both locally and regionally. While Kim has extensive experience across all areas of investigation, her real passion is ‘Investigative Interviewing’, ensuring that police officers work to the highest professional standards in securing evidence from Victims, Witnesses and Suspects. She has a wealth of experience around interviewing across all major and serious crime types.

DC Bowen was a guest presenter for an event hosted by ISL on 06/05/2021 on the topic of ‘Working With the Interpreter Part 1 – The Interview’. The session was a great success and was attended by nearly 150 linguists and interpreters from all over the world. Below, you can read the key questions that were put to DC Bowen following her presentation, together with her answers.

1. Should police officers remain in the room and take a statement from a suspect/victim? So often they just attempt leaving us on our own with the victim to take the statement.

Guidance from the College of Policing and PACE (in relation to a suspect) clearly state that a trained investigator must take a statement or conduct the interview with a victim/suspect. Under no circumstances should an interpreter be left alone with the individual, let alone be asked to take the statement themselves. The practice you’ve described does unfortunately happen, however, we are working hard to train our police officers and reinforce the correct procedure.

2. You suggest that the interviewing police officer may ask the interpreter’s opinion about how the interview went and if they have any suggestion. But we have been taught that we should ONLY interpret and avoid giving advice or our idea etc.

That’s right – you should avoid giving personal opinions, such as whether you believe the suspect’s account or the victim’s statement. However, as part of a de-brief following an interview with a witness on a sensitive subject, for example, the officer may ask you whether you’d picked up on any hesitation, avoidance of subject – anything that may have been missed during your rendering of the message. The officer will have been present to observe visual clues, but they would not be able to understand any spoken words. Sometimes, the individual may have been muttering under their breath, and if this was not interpreted at the time, it may cause the officer to have missed a nuance. In these types of situations, you are invited to emphasize and contextualise the response in the de-brief to ensure the officer is fully aware of what was said.

3. I’m happy to hear that the interpreter’s role is taken into account as something more active than just translating from and into a language.

Great news. Personally, I have great respect for interpreters and the job that they do, and I am fully aware that I would not be able to do my job without them. You are key to us being able to treat all victims, witnesses and suspects fairly, and that does extend beyond just a spoken rendering of a message.

4. Could you please tell me more about your having to turn down an interpreter because they refused to mirror you? What exactly did the interpreter refuse to do?

In order for me, as an interviewing officer, to do my job to the best of my ability, I rely on the interpreter to pass on the message in its entirety – including tone of voice and register. I would expect the interpreter to do the same for the non-English speaker, solicitor, or any other person present in the interpreting session. These elements are crucial to the correct understanding of the message that’s being conveyed. The last thing I would want is for me to express myself in a caring tone, only for the interpreter to covey the message in a flat monotone.

5. In an audio recorded suspect interview, sometimes a suspect would just point to a part of body or make a yes or no gesture to a question, how should an interpreter deal with this?

The interpreter should take the cue from the interviewer. In this case, the interviewer would prompt the suspect to verbalise their answer for the benefit of the recording, and the interpreter should interpret the request accordingly.

6. Hello. Different officers do things differently. I would like to know in which language should the victim statement be written first. Thank you.

This is a tough one. In an ideal scenario, we would want the statement to be taken simultaneously in both languages, which is the practice in Cambridgeshire. In other forces, however, you produce the statement in the victims first language first and then you would produce a translation into English.  However, regardless of the force, the interview should be conducted before any statement is produced so you have a clear understanding as to what has happened.

7. Could you tell us more about transfer of trauma? What exactly is it and how do police officers cope with it?

We are very lucky we work with Dr Jess Miller is Principal Investigator the award-winning Trauma Resilience in UK Policing project, bringing 20 years of research experience, including work in critical incident support and preventing violent extremism. Jess now translates the latest neuropsychology into the reality of operational police trauma resilience training and surveys police wellbeing across the UK.

8. Hi. With Corona, if the witness/suspect/victim needs to have a solicitor consultation, this is now done at the station, virtually. With this, the officer “expects” the interpreter to be in a room alone with the person,  which is against our code. How can we best handle this, please?

With Covid we have change to many aspects of policing. Suspects are entitled to a private consultation with their solicitor and so to communicate that you would need to be present in the room – however I would expect that an officer to be just on the other side of the door whilst the consultation takes place.

9. I am NHS (social + mental health) and I have been told on many courses that we are not allowed to express an opinion,  if only the person  is sectioned under the mental health act… Shall we break that during the police work?

As mentioned, I don’t want you to do anything that you are not comfortable with, or anything that breaches the Code of Conduct. Each case will be different, but if for example I am interviewing a victim of sexual assault and I have missed something in the way that a reply was given (it was apprehensive or deflected), then, if asked, I would hope that you would share that with me as I may not have picked up on the terminology used. I’m not asking your opinion in relation to the victim or the offence.

10. Don’t you think that mirroring the interviewer can possibly make the victim and especially the suspect feel we are on the police side?

As mentioned earlier, the interpreter Code of Conduct requires interpreters to convey the message faithfully, to all parties concerned. I would expect you to mirror me as much as the suspect and anyone else who is speaking. The interpreter introduction makes it clear that you are impartial, so the suspect should not be able to have the impression you are on the ‘opposing’ side.

Remember too this is only in relation to mirroring what is spoken – pace and tone etc, this is not about mirroring non-verbal communication. I wouldn’t ask you to do that.

11. Can I register directly with police? Do I have to be on the National Interpreters Register for this? Thanks.

In order to work on police contracts, you need a Level 6 qualification, such as the DPSI or DCI. Joining the NRPSI is voluntary and is not a precondition for being assigned police work. To obtain these assignments, you need to join interpreting agencies which hold Police contracts, such as Capita, thebigword and Cintra.

12. Do you think the Interpreter should be present in the debrief given to the solicitor in a suspect interview?

If an interpreter is needed for the solicitor to communicate then yes.

13. I attended a police interview last Sunday and the (very young) police officer just asked me to get on with it by myself after explaining briefly what the interview was about.  I kindly refused to do so.  I have been a police interpreter for many years and that had never happened to me before.

It is so sad to hear that this has happened – if the officer was from our 3 forces Beds, Cambs or Herts then if you pass me the details I would be happy to liaise with the officer and give advice.

14. When the victim does not answer the question asked and diverts it, what is your expectation of the interpreter at that point?

Just translate what has been said and the officer will hopefully realise that this has happened and re-phrase the question.

15. Regarding mirroring: should the Interpreter mirror all three actors in a suspect interview – officer, solicitor, suspect?

I think so – I think that is the only way we really understand the whole conversation. If you think about Mehrabian’s Model all aspects of communication are important. Again though, I would mention I am only asking you to mirror what is said and not nonverbal communications.

16. I do feel it is probably not suitable to ask interpreters how they feel or what they think about an interview. If, for example, the interpreter is new, the over-zealous nature to prove oneself or even to feel more “involved”, the interpreter could very easily add information or change the nature of the information quite easily. It all depends on how much of the interviewer’s opinion the officers take into account.

Good to hear that there is a different view. As per my previous response, any information supplied can be of great benefit to the officer – but I am mindful of your Interpreter Code of Conduct and would not expect you to break it.

17. Not many officers brief interpreters before interview…sometimes we are expected to go in cold…when we ask sometimes we are told that we are just there to interpret…how do we broach this?

I always take it from a stance of if I was in your shoes – I would want to know what the offence is, where it happened – basic information. I don’t think you are asking too much of the officer to share this, so I would simply ask them to tell you before you go in and say ‘I would like to be briefed’.

18. We interpreters have to be independent, but on the other hand we have to interpret everything, including the emotional component, as truthfully as we can. I even try to copy the interviewee’s gestures and noises as much as I can.

That’s brilliant to hear.

19. I think that the tone of voice is very important, it can help or make more difficult the building of the rapport. It is the same as interpreting in a psychotherapy session or in a mental health setting. We have to be sensible about that.

That’s my view completely.

20. During the pandemic some statements/ suspect interviews are done remotely. What is your view on this? Do you think this could become a common practice?

I am not of fan of remote interviewing but Covid has definitely forced our hand as to how we could continue to investigate crimes with the restrictions in place. With the advancements in technology I think we have coped well and I don’t think victims have been disadvantaged too much by this approach – so moving forward I think we will see that on a case by case basis, there will be a review as whether a face to face meeting is needed.

21. What does NVC stand for?

Non Verbal Communication – a crucial element of any interview.

22. Grateful to hear Kim’s view but in Manchester Police has been very different.

I would be interested to hear in what way there are different – feel free to join the next session and we can approach the subject then.

23. Is it ok to be left on my own with a suspect?

No – there will be cases where it will happen, as mentioned in a previous question, but as a general rule – no, absolutely not.

For more stimulating discussion points, make sure to join our next event on 3rd of June at 17:00, when DC Bowen will be delivering a session on ‘The 5 Step Statement’- book your tickets here!

See you there!