Officer Raymond Croze shows the ELSA interpretation device.
CLEARWATER – Not only does Clearwater have a large Hispanic population, it also sees thousands of tourists from around the world. Now, the Clearwater Police Department has an easy way to be able to communicate with people, no matter what language they speak.
The department was given 10 Enabling Language Service Anywhere devices, otherwise called ELSA. The devices were given for free, but there was a $600 cost for activation and the first month’s access fee, said Rob Shaw, public safety officer for the Clearwater Police Department. After that, the cost is $20 per device each month and $1.50 per minute they are actively used. In exchange, the department is able to rapidly get connected to live translators of 180 different languages.
The small devices can easily clip onto a belt, so officers can bring them out on patrol with them in order to have them readily available to use in the field.
Officer Raymond Croze, Hispanic outreach officer, said that the department has had the devices since the beginning of April and already they have become very useful.
“One time it possibly saved a kid’s life,” Croze said.
In that incident, a man came to the Hispanic Outreach Center who spoke very little English, Croze said. Though there are interpreters at the center, sometimes they are busy with other citizens. In this case, Croze learned that the man has a grandson who lives with him who had a friend who had come over. The friend stayed for a little while and then left.
“And all of a sudden the grandson was very lethargic and could barely sit up,” Croze said. “So I went there with him and used the little Spanish that I know, but once I got stuck, I was able to use this device. And with the interpreter through ELSA, I determined that the kid had just smoked pot and he was on medication – anti-depressants. So that medication, mixed with the marijuana, caused a medical situation. So I was able to get him medical attention, calling an ambulance and they ended up transporting him to the hospital. He ended up being fine, but if I hadn’t had this, it would have taken longer to get that information.”
In another situation, an officer conducted a traffic stop, but the driver only spoke Polish. The ELSA device allowed the officer and driver to be able to communicate with each other. Another time, Croze said, some tourists got some of their belongings stolen on Clearwater Beach, and they only spoke French, so officers used the ELSA device to translate.
To use the device, officers press its button for 10 seconds to connect to turn it on and connect to the system. For Spanish, officers then press the button once, and for any other language, they press it twice. After a moment, an operator comes on and asks the officer which language they would like, and then the operator connects the officer to an available interpreter somewhere in the world. In a demonstration, Croze asked for a Russian interpreter and ended up connected to a woman in Portland, Ore. Other times, when using it in the field, Croze said he has spoken with
people in Guatemala, El Salvador, all over the United States and other locations. Once connected to the interpreter, he or she can help translate the conversation for all parties.
In April, officers used the devices for 21 minutes, and in May, they were used for 41 minutes, saving valuable time.
“Especially if someone is a victim, we need to get information quickly,” Croze said. “Say a robbery just happened and someone got robbed and they call us right away. We respond to the scene and say we don’t have a bilingual officer. It’s obviously very important to get that information quickly – the suspect, the description, what happened and things like that. So having this device would be a huge help in a situation like that. Because if you didn’t have that and we didn’t have a bilingual officer available, it would be very difficult to get that information and we would have to call the Language Line which takes longer, or try to find an interpreter in the victim’s family and that could be tough because say they’re away from home. Where do you get an interpreter? Now we have it right at our fingertips.”
In Clearwater, 24 percent of the population is Hispanic, Croze said, most from Mexico and particularly from Hidalgo. Having these devices in addition to the Hispanic Outreach Center increases the overall level of service that the department can provide, he said.
“It enables us to serve the community better and have a better level of service, especially with the Hispanic population,” Croze said.
In addition to being able to better fight crime, better communication also leads to better relationships between police and the Hispanic community, he added.
“It’s good, too, because the Hispanic Outreach Center (and communication) breaks down barriers, and sometimes there is a fear of the police,” Croze said. “Especially if they came from Mexico because sometimes they can be brutal, possibly corrupt. And we aren’t like that, obviously. So we let them know that we’re here to help you.”
So far, the only other community to be using these devices in the state is Kissimmee, he said, though there are a few others throughout the United States as a whole. The 10 devices are split among the three districts in Clearwater and are given out on a geographical basis, Shaw said, plus one that is kept at the front counter of the department for any walk-in traffic with language barriers. The department currently is studying whether it should acquire more devices.