Kyle PD goes for 60-day trial on translation kiosk

When a non-English speaker calls 911, Kyle Police have avenues available to be able to understand their problem most of the time.

But that option doesn’t exist for officers in the field who may encounter someone with whom they cannot communicate.

Jeff Barnett, chief of police in Kyle, posed a potential solution for that during the Feb. 4 meeting of the Kyle City Council, suggesting the city enter a 60-day free trial with VOYCE that would supply the city with a tablet-like device capable of translating up to 100 foreign languages as well as sign language.

The device, which would be in a kiosk installed in the lobby at police headquarters, should be ready for use by March 1, Barnett said, after the equipment is shipped and a company representative sets it up and trains officers in its use. Officers and foreign language speakers would be able “within seconds” to have an interpreter on the line.

It happens “quite often” that officers encounter someone speaking a language that they do not. Oftentimes, there is someone on the scene, for example a family member, who can translate but that’s not always the case.

The company has also offered handheld devices officers can use in the field and Barnett said “it could be a matter of days” for police to decide they want that option. “The first step is just to try this unit in the lobby and see how convenient it is.”

Council member Robert Rizo knows first-hand the value of translation. He recalled an incident that occurred when he was riding along with police and a call came in about a motorist stranded on Interstate 35.

“It was 1 or 2 a.m. and when we got there the people were Spanish speaking only. They didn’t have a cell phone that was charged so they couldn’t call anyone they knew and they were having trouble getting help.”

Rizo said the officer, who did not speak Spanish, approached the young couple and then turned back to him. “He turned around and looked at me and I said, ‘Yeah, I can help.’”

It turned out the couple had left Georgetown en route to San Antonio when they had a flat tire. “There’s no real roadside assistance at that time,” Rizo recalled. “We moved the car off to the side and got them into a hotel. The next morning I went and picked them up, got a roadside service to help and got them on their way. Right then and there I saw the need for translation. It gets really dangerous on I-35 at night.”

He said he doesn’t think many people understand “how many new people are coming in to the area and how many languages.” Even Spanish, which he speaks fluently, can still present a problem.

“I was coming out of a store one day and a gentleman came up and started talking to me and I couldn’t understand what he was saying,” Rizo said. It turned out the speaker was Puerto Rican and “they speak 100 miles an hour – it’s difficult to understand.”

Rizo also said he sees the value of handheld translation units officers could have with them on patrol “Something they could hold in their hands would be great.”

Barnett said until the equipment is installed, officers will continue to call on Texas State University for sign language translation and will “do their best” in the field. “Basically we find a solution, but nothing as professional as the service” that VOYCE provides, he said.

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