Portable language translation device being used by Clearwater Police

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Officer Ray Croze is the liaison to the growing Hispanic community for Clearwater Police.  His Spanish is getting better, but he's sometimes faced with a language barrier.

But now, he has help from ELSA, a device that fits into his pocket.

The Enabling Language Service Anywhere, or ELSA, puts 180 different languages at the officer's fingertips.

At the push of a button, ELSA connects to a remote service with a human who is ready to translate.

"If you need a Spanish interpreter, you hit that button again, once it connects you to a Spanish interpreter.  If you hit it twice, it'll ask you which language you want, and you can say which language, say German, and it'll connect you to a German translator," said Croze.

ELSA can also come in handy during traffic stops.  A recent DUI suspect only spoke Polish.  And at Clearwater Beach, a couple who only spoke French were able to give police a description of the man who stole belongings off of their blanket.  Clearwater is currently testing ten of the devices.

Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway thinks the ELSA is here to stay.

"I see this lasting.  Here in the Tampa Bay area with all the tourists that we have coming here, this is going to last, because we don't have the capability to hire officers that speak a lot of different languages.  So this opens up a lot of doors for us," said Holloway.

Clearwater is the only bay area department using ELSA, and one of only two in the state.  Kissimmee Police is the other.  Forty-one law enforcement agencies around the country are also using the ELSA device. 

Minneapolis-based RTT Mobile Interpretation, founded in 2007, is the company that manages the ELSA.   

"I think that once this gets fully functional and running, and more police departments are using it, it's going to break down those barriers of communication that can happen if the person does not know English," Croze explained.

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