The Challenges of Law Enforcement And Crime Transcription

When the heat is up, tempers tend to rise, and there is a notable increase in criminal activity. Police officers, law enforcement professionals, and other members of the US criminal justice system carry the brunt of the increased crime wave’s impact. Even outside of summer, violent crimes are a concern that takes up most of their time and resources. That’s why every little bit helps — like law enforcement and crime transcription.

Having experts transcribe recordings involving criminal actions can help ease the burden on our police departments and government agencies. This means less paperwork and less burnout for our police officers. Outsourcing an agency’s transcription needs also allows for a faster, more affordable, more accurate, and more efficient process. 

However, not all transcription services are created equal, and the sensitive nature of law enforcement work demands only the best transcription companies. Let’s talk about the important aspects of crime transcription and the things you need to look for when getting an outsourced provider

The Importance of Accuracy In Crime Transcription

Crime transcription is an important part of the criminal justice system. Most police actions are inextricably linked to legal proceedings, and court cases often require certified transcripts of police recordings and are usually instrumental to criminal cases. 

Law enforcement and criminal justice processes require precision above and beyond the usual transcription requirements. This is because any error, no matter how subjectively small, has the potential to significantly affect the trajectory of a criminal case hearing, which in turn can impact lives.

Examples of Crime Transcription Getting It Wrong

Let me give you an example. Transcripts usually include speaker labels, which identify who’s talking and are especially important when the audio or video recording experiences a drop in quality. It also helps the viewers track whoever is in the conversation. 

Let’s say we have an audio recording involving two different people with similar names was used to build a criminal drug case. One of them is the offender, while one of them does not have a criminal background and was only tangentially included in the conversation. However, the transcriptionists working on the recording mislabeled one speaker for the other, leading to the investigation and eventual arrest of the innocent person. 

Here’s another scenario. Suppose an offender was arrested for violent crimes. Everything goes smoothly, and the prosecution won the case thanks to overwhelming evidence. The judge sentences the offender to 36 years in prison. However, an administrative transcription error recorded 36 months instead of 36 years. The offender served his time, was released decades earlier than he was supposed to, and was again involved in another violent crime. Only then did the error come to light.

Now, these scenarios seem far-fetched, more at home in police procedural dramas than in real life. Unfortunately, they’re not — everything I’ve detailed actually happened. Due to transcription errors, an innocent man, Carlos Ortega, was jailed and had his business and financial stability stripped away. Another transcription error led to a guilty man, Cody DeShields, getting set free. 

Other Challenges with Criminal Transcription

While accuracy is important in transcription for law enforcement, it shouldn’t be the only consideration. Here are things that law enforcement agencies should look into and the things that transcription companies should offer:

Skilled Law Enforcement Transcription

Like any specialized line of work, police officers and other law enforcement entities have their own set of jargon and terminology. This helps streamline communication and improve procedure timelines. However, this presents a challenge for transcription service providers without enough experience handling transcription and translation services for criminal justice agencies. The resulting work would either contain errors or have increased turnaround times as the transcriptionist scrambles to search for the term used in the recording. Meanwhile, expert transcribers should have little to no problems handling such jargon.

This is why agencies looking to outsource their transcription needs should only consider companies that specialize in police and other law enforcement recordings — preferably ones that have worked with hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the country. 

Fast Turnaround Time

If it comes down to it, any transcriber can create a near-100% accurate transcript if they don’t have a deadline. However, an effective transcription service provider must be able to strike a balance between accuracy and acceptable turnaround times. Additionally, providers can also offer a range of turnaround times that can be suit an agency’s requirements and budget. 

Ability to Handle Poor Audio Quality

Aside from experience, transcriptionists must also contend with various recording conditions and audio quality problems. Police officers and detectives don’t always record in cushy offices or quiet interview rooms. Background noise, mumbling, or other audio quality issues can make it difficult to transcribe recordings accurately. Accents, dialects, different pronunciations, or slang can further complicate the transcription process.

According to Helen Fraser in The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics, “Legally obtained forensic speech recordings can provide powerful forensic evidence, allowing the court to hear speakers providing information that they would not be willing to give openly. A major problem, however, is that the audio is often of very poor quality, making it hard to understand the content. This has become well-known in forensic linguistics.”

This is why inexperienced companies and automated transcription are not recommended for law enforcement recordings. The sensitivity of crime transcription requires the best transcribers you can find, and computer programs cannot incorporate nuance and contextual understanding into transcription work, resulting in inaccurate transcripts. 

Managing Emotional And Psychological Toll

Suppose we waive the skill requirement of a transcription provider, there’s also the fact that crime transcription is not for the faint of heart. Criminal cases can involve emotionally charged situations, such as victim testimonies or intense cross-examinations. Furthermore, cases often deal with sensitive and graphic details. It’s not uncommon for transcriptionists to handle recordings detailing serious criminal offenses like sexual assault, murder, arson, and other violent crimes. The psychological toll of working on such a job is emotional labor. Inexperienced transcriptionists may find it challenging to cope with the emotional labor attached to transcribing explicit or disturbing content, affecting the quality and accuracy of the transcript. 

But it’s not all about experience. Police departments and agencies should look into transcription companies specializing in law enforcement transcription and have programs in place to ensure that their transcribers have all the mental and emotional assistance they need to perform their duties efficiently without sacrificing their well-being. 


Criminal justice information, or CJI, should be kept secure. The U.S. Government has enacted several laws and regulations to protect CJI from breaches and misuse through various regulatory programs like criminal background checks, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR), Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), NCIC 2000, and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). All these programs and regulations fall under the oversight of one federal body: the Criminal Justice Information Services, or CJIS. The CJIS protects all information involving criminal investigations and national security. Any third-party provider handling legal and law enforcement files should comply with CJIS guidelines. 

However, the number of transcription service providers that lack CJIS compliance yet offer services to law enforcement agencies might surprise you. They can say that they handle files with utmost security and confidentiality, but without the proper government accreditation and compliance, there’s really no way to check. These types of companies present potential security weaknesses, so it’s better to assign your transcription jobs to CJIS-complaint, confidential transcription service providers. 

Law Enforcement Recordings That Can Benefit From Transcription

Police transcription services aren’t only about crime transcription. Here are a few types of files and recordings that stand to benefit from the services of an outsourced transcription company:

  • Body cam footage
  • Dash cam audio
  • Witness statements
  • Suspect interviews
  • Officer reports and case notes
  • Radio communications
  • Internal affairs matters
  • Investigative reports or notes
  • Private investigator recordings
  • Spanish interviews
  • Testimony
  • 911 calls
  • Patrol reports
  • Wiretaps
  • Fire investigation reports
  • Recorded statements
  • Departmental correspondence and memos
  • Court proceedings & depositions
  • Interviews, interrogations, confessions
  • Correctional facility usage
  • EMS & 911 communications
  • Accident reports
  • And more.

Make The Right Choice for Crime Transcription

The sensitive nature and broad scope of crime transcription require the best services you can get. Accuracy, experience, speed, security, and effective psychological management are the hallmark traits you want to look for when enlisting the help of a transcription service provider. The right choice in signing with a criminal recording transcription partner goes beyond saving money and time — it can also save lives. 

Ditto Transcripts is a CJIS-compliant, Denver, Colorado-based transcription company that provides fast, accurate, and affordable transcription services for law enforcement agencies of all sizes. Call (720) 287-3710 today for a free quote, and ask about our free five-day trial. Visit our website for more information about our transcription services.

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