Transnational Organised Crime and Translation (TOCAT): Improving police communication across languages

Principal Investigator

Dr Joanna Drugan

Research Institution

University of East Anglia

Project Summary

Our societies are more diverse than ever – more than 300 languages are spoken in the UK today. This increased diversity has had a major impact for the police. Officers now have to investigate and combat organised crime ‘networks’ whose members communicate across multiple languages. Police therefore increasingly need translators to be able to investigate serious crimes such as people trafficking and child sexual exploitation. This involves significant challenges, including cost, number of languages, quality and the limited supply of qualified linguists.

In the Transnational Organised Crime and Translation (TOCAT) project, researchers, the police and translation providers will work together to understand and face up to these challenges. Our starting point is the need for practical guidance to help police officers and translators work together as effectively as possible. A working group has drafted official new UK guidelines for police to use when they work with translators. The TOCAT project team will conduct a trial of these new guidelines, using a ‘Test, Learn, Adapt’ approach. Selected police officers in the UK and Belgium will be trained to use the guidelines, then researchers will interview and ‘shadow’ police officers as they work to measure their effectiveness in practice, as well as any other potential needs identified by the users. This will allow us to revise the approach to make it better suited to actual needs. The Belgian trial will also allow us to test how far the approach can be ‘translated’ to other countries facing similar challenges, since transnational crime operates across national borders.

The main questions we will be asking are:

  1. How can police work more effectively to understand and fight transnational organised crime such as people trafficking when it is conducted across different languages? In particular, how should police work with translators when victims, witnesses or suspects don’t speak the same language as investigators?
  1. Is the planned police approach effective in practice, and, where it is not, what can be done to enhance it?
  1. What are the experiences of frontline workers (police officers, support workers, translators) when they face these new challenges, and can they help us develop a better overall understanding of transnational organised crime?

To answer these questions, two researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK, Dr Joanna Drugan and Dr Alexandria Innes, will work with two researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium, Prof. Heidi Salaets and Dr Katalin Balogh. We will draw on our established partnerships with the police and all the professional associations representing translators to design and carry out the research. The research team has decades of experience in researching translation practice in ‘real-world’ settings, migration, and police working with linguists, suspects and victims of crime, including children and other vulnerable groups. Dr Drugan, an expert in translation quality, will oversee the project. Dr Drugan and Dr Innes, who is an expert in migration, will conduct the UK research, working with three Constabularies and the College of Policing. Prof. Salaets and Dr Balogh, who both have expertise in interpreting in police settings, will conduct the Belgian research, working with local and federal Police.

We will focus particularly on the crimes of human trafficking and smuggling in this project. We will also focus on the impact of language challenges on front line workers, notably police officers and translators.


We will share our research findings and the tried-and-tested approach as widely as possible among police, translation providers and researchers, including making our (anonymised) data available for free. This will result in a valuable contribution to evidence-based policing of increasingly significant transnational crimes, and support further research on this important topic. The Conference at the end of the programme will provide a platform for researchers to engage directly with non-academic stakeholders, and for shared findings and recommendations to emerge in policy briefings. Our emphasis will be on targets for follow-up action based on the project findings.

Contact Information

For further information email Jo at