Matthew Fowler, Managing Director for APAC at VIQ Solutions, discusses how evolving technologies are helping law enforcement to counter challenges arising from pandemic conditions, and in many cases leading to improved and streamlined processes.
There has been a dramatic shift in the use of technology in recent months, right across the spectrum of organisations and industries, as people adapt to the need for social distancing. With this rise comes an intertwined web of technologies that must work together effectively and efficiently to provide suitable alternatives to what was primarily an in-person interaction. This is true of many sectors of business, and in some instances, has forced very traditional and orderly institutions to adopt new technologies to deal with the social distancing requirements. The evolution has been particularly apparent in the law enforcement and judicial systems, where traditional methods established over decades are now being revised to accommodate societal needs.
Many justice and law enforcement institutions are rapidly implementing technologies such as video conferencing, remote witnesses, virtual hearings, and other online dispute resolution methodologies. The use of these virtual services magnifies the importance of audio and video evidence technologies in resolving legal disputes, recording statements from witnesses and testimony from suspects.
Typically, these disputes and hearings would have taken place in a court or interview room, set up and wired for the presentation of evidence into the legal record. In many cases this would be transcribed into a legal verbatim record and distributed to authorised parties as required. Most of the time, participants would be in the same room as the recording equipment and those responsible could monitor both people and recording to ensure the best quality evidence capture.
This is no longer the case in many instances. Participants may be engaged through a conference call with remote witnesses and some court personnel in a court room. Testimony from witnesses, victim impact statements and police interrogations are being gathered remotely, through the use of virtual instruments. More and more frequently, audio and video may be used to capture witnesses, evidence and legal statements whereby the participants are in separate rooms, often relying on Zoom, Skype and other technologies in a conference call set-up. All these digital evidence inputs must be balanced and enhanced to achieve a high-quality recording. Missing parts of evidence due to background noise or digital interruption simply won’t suffice.
The chance of background noise affecting a recording is greater still when individuals are in remote locations. Sitting in a home office or kitchen table, people are apt to pay less attention to things such as crumpling paper, or tapping a glass of water with a pen. These all add up to make a court transcriber or police officer’s job infinitely more difficult.
Microphone technology itself is also a part of the problem. Over the years, the average microphone has improved in quality quite significantly, with added functionalities such as directionality, polar patterns and dynamic response. The humble microphone is now capable of picking up a much broader array of sounds, and even the faintest noise – which can have a significant effect on recording quality.
In the past, an interview room or court room was set up for recording purposes, with microphones placed at precise distances and directions to capture a person speaking. In the ‘new normal’, individuals are not likely to record testimonies and so forth in a purpose-built space, so this also comes to bear on the recording output.
Modern technologies now exist, however, that can provide governance over recording quality, and mitigate many of these negative factors. For instance, rather than using a microphone to capture the audio from a ZOOM call, the audio track can be fed directly to the recorder. This provides a stronger audio signal and thus a more prominent voice recording. Having access to the internet is vital for both participant and transcriber – a reliable and fast service will enable processes to function efficiently and smoothly.
Another factor to consider includes providing proper guidance to individuals involved before the session begins. This involves things such as microphone choice and placement and the testing of devices before a call begins, as well as considering other services which might be using internet bandwidth during the call.
There are other ways to enhance the transcription of evidence recordings. Documenting with quality annotations and speaker identification enhances any recording. Attaching relevant documents will help with context as well. All these factors help create a much richer record of the testimony. Simply using a digital recorder, although easy, in the end may not provide sufficient information to produce a verbatim transcript.
Advanced automated recording solutions can nowadays use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to ‘learn on the job’ as well. The automatic generation of annotations for example, or recognising simple key combinations allows a solution to enter repetitive notes with time stamps. AI technologies are being used to continuously improve the original quality of voice recordings and are nowadays applying algorithms to further filter, enhance and differentiate voices during a recording process.
Being able to add relevant documents at the appropriate time and place in a recording helps with context even when words may be difficult to hear. This is another function of modern transcription solutions which can be of significant help in a virtual setting, as it sets up a much more holistic view of evidence and therefore makes it easier for stakeholders to process an accurate recording of events in full, with all associated evidence clearly defined.
The pandemic has tested policing and the judicial process on many levels, but out of all conflict and challenge comes opportunity – and these new technologies that are now enhancing the new, virtual world of recording statements and enabling law enforcement to move ahead pay testament to that fact.