The Los Angeles Police Department’s latest high-tech crime-fighting tool, the Phraselator, enables officers to translate and broadcast thousands of prerecorded phrases in a multitude of languages, reports the Los Angeles Times. Introduced to the department in late summer, the Phraselator may have found an ideal home in Los Angeles, where police have long struggled to find officers who can communicate in all 224 languages spoken in the immigrant-rich city.
The Phraselator doesn’t attempt voice-to-voice translation. Instead, the LAPD’s bilingual officers — 32 percent of the 9,600-member force has some foreign language proficiency –translate and load standard police commands and questions into the device’s computer memory. The translations can be retrieved and broadcast by a simple English-language text or voice word search. “It is not quite like that translator thing on ‘Star Trek.’ It’s a step or two away,” said one officer. “But when it comes to crowd control, natural disasters or medical emergencies, it can be a lifesaver.” The device was developed with backing of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and used in Afghanistan and Iraq by American soldiers communicating with people in Farsi, Dari, Pashto, and other languages. The LAPD bought four of the $2,500 devices, which at first glance look like Palm Pilots on steroids, and stored 35 crowd control and other commands: “You must immediately leave the area,” “Get down from the pole” and “This area has been declared an unlawful assembly.”