Law Enforcement Transcription

By: Danielle Chazen

Law Enforcement Transcription
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Professionals in police departments, security firms, law firms, courts, and government agencies all rely on law enforcement transcription services to effectively do their jobs. This saves time, helps with the submission of accurate evidence, builds stronger cases, and reduces costs. But how does something as seemingly mundane as law enforcement transcription make such a big impact on the legal system? What equipment does an organization need to obtain reliable transcription? What should professionals take into account when considering legal transcription outsourcing? This guide is here to answer these questions. 

What is Law Enforcement Transcription?

The law enforcement industry produces a significant amount of audiovisual materials that they need to turn into searchable text to enable more efficient work.  

Examples of Law Enforcement Transcription

Legal transcription companies work on a wide range of projects, from court hearings and depositions to fire reports. One area with a massive demand for services is police department transcription. Police transcription covers investigation reports, surveillance audiovisual materials, victim testimonies, witness statements, suspect interrogations, patrol reports, traffic violations, accident reports, 911 calls, and arrest reports, just to name a few. But why do legal and police transcription services make such a big difference in this important line of work? 

Why Law Enforcement Transcription Services Can Make or Break a Case

In law enforcement, a very small detail can mean the difference between evidence that a court accepts versus evidence it dismisses. It can also be the differentiating factor between investigators discovering a key clue to solve the crime, or missing it altogether. Although the accuracy of documentation is critical, officers are rarely in a position to complete investigative transcription properly on the scene. Using law enforcement transcribers takes a huge load off their shoulders, and lets them focus on what they do best.

More specifically, outsourcing investigation transcription saves hours upon hours of desk work, which law enforcers would otherwise need to do themselves. It also costs police departments far more to pay for police officers to sit behind a desk to transcribe or even hire in-house law enforcement transcribers than to pay to have the transcription work outsourced by a professional service provider. After all, these companies work around the clock to qualify transcribers and ensure the absolute accuracy of their final product.

How is Law Enforcement Transcription performed?

Legal transcription companies often offer 24/7 services, so that authorities and organizations can receive their necessary documents as quickly as possible. That often means on the same or following day for urgent cases, although other cases may take longer. To ensure timely and accurate service, companies work hard to find and qualify the best law enforcement transcribers, a process that involves many factors. Often, the transcribers that are hired have prior experience in the domain, as transcribers must be familiar with a large number of industry terms to make the process efficient, fast, and cost-effective, without compromising on quality.

Also, the sensitive nature of the work often exposes them to content that isn’t easy or comfortable to hear, and it’s important for them to fully understand what they’re getting themselves into. For the same reason, transcribers usually go through full criminal background checks before they can begin working. They’re also typically required to sign strict NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) to ensure confidentiality. It is highly recommended to verify that your law enforcement transcription service provider adheres to these guidelines so that peoples’ safety and authentic case outcomes are not compromised.

A police car on a street

How Transcription Equipment Impacts Police Departments and Other Legal Organizations

Both transcription companies and law enforcement organizations need to prioritize high-quality tools for accurate and cost-effective transcriptions. Here’s why.

Equipment Recommendations for Law Enforcement Organizations that Want Accurate Transcription

For law enforcement transcribers to provide fast and accurate transcriptions, legal authorities and organizations must provide them with high-quality audio. While it is possible to efficiently transcribe lower-quality audio files, it takes longer and costs more, and accuracy is often more challenging to guarantee. Therefore, providing high-quality recorders and dictation tools for your department. Team members can record via smartphone apps, on the computer, or using surveillance equipment such as cameras. That said, it is also important to ensure the legal transcription companies you consider have an efficient toolbox that can guarantee high-quality work. 

Equipment that Smart Transcription Companies Leverage

Note-taking apps, noise-canceling headphones, and foot pedals that allow transcribers to rewind and fast forward the audio are a great start, but if there is no usage of advanced digital tools the transcription process will likely take longer. The best transcription systems rely on the most important factor for accuracy: human intelligence. Consider what happens when you empower human intelligence with automatic speech recognition (ASR) and artificial intelligence (AI). When a transcription company uses automatic speech recognition, it becomes easier to understand who is speaking, even if there is no video. This way, the chance of mixing up two witnesses’ voices, for example, significantly decreases. Similarly, when a transcription company uses artificial intelligence, the levels of accuracy and efficiency are enhanced because AI technology is all about getting better the more you use it.

At first, the company behind the technology teaches the software by feeding it with data such industry terms, prior court cases, book titles, judge names, and an abundance of additional information, so that the software can instantly recognize as many details as possible from audio files. While the software transcribes audio files at unprecedented speeds, human law enforcement transcribers review the automated text and make any corrections. The software then learns from its mistakes, gets smarter, and makes fewer errors with each future use.

For agencies that are considering outsourcing law enforcement transcription, it’s important to ensure your provider remembers the power of human intelligence. Keeping human intelligence at the forefront and empowering it with smart technology is bound to decrease both department costs and stress levels, as a very tedious aspect of the work becomes simplified.

Understanding verbatim law enforcement transcription vs non-verbatim

Verbatim transcription produces transcripts that match a verbal recording word for word. Additionally, these transcripts include pauses, sighs, repeated words and other information that helps preserve the information as completely as possible. In fact, the record will even reflect background noises, typically in parenthesis.  

Non-verbatim transcription is often easier to read and cleaner. The transcriptionist will cut out words or phrases that aren’t important to the meaning of the transcript. These transcripts also will not include background sounds, stutters or repeated words. While these are useful in many circumstances, they aren’t the best option for law enforcement. 

A woman's hands typing on a keyboard

The importance of a verbatim record

Verbatim records are better for legal use-cases and law enforcement. In fact, courts often require them. Even in cases where they aren’t legally mandated, they are likely the better choice. The loss of context that occurs when trading verbatim for non-verbatim transcripts can lead to incomplete records. The nonverbatim elements and specific phrasing can also express nuanced information that completely changes the meaning of a statement.  

For instance, imagine a witness says, “Well, I need to think, I think saw him there that day, but um… I saw him, yes, I saw him.” In this example, the witness expresses some doubt, but then gives a more confident answer. The transcript conveys the pauses with ellipses and includes “well” and “um.” That statement may read “I saw him there that day,” in a summarized version. Cutting out utterances like “um” and not indicating pauses can change the way an investigator will interpret that statement. Those words and pauses might not be reflecting facts, but they have a strong impact on things like the credibility or confidence of the witness and other crucial factors.  

Finding a partner for law enforcement transcription

When selecting a partner for law enforcement transcription, it’s important to find a transcription provider that understands the needs of the legal industry. Contact Verbit to learn more about how we’re supporting law enforcement agencies and other members of the legal industry.