South Bethany police go high-tech

Officers with the South Bethany Police Department are part of one of the few agencies in the state utilizing one of the most advanced technological developments in law enforcement.

Say hello — or “hola,” or “bonjour” — to the ECTACO Speechguard PD-5, a device that’s practically straight off the U.S.S. Enterprise. This multilingual, hand-held police translator is revolutionizing relations between citizens, suspects and law enforcement. Officers can now communicate in a multitude of languages, without losing critical time or patience.

“If we had any confrontation with any of the Hispanic population in the area,” said M/Cpl. Eric Watkins, “we had to resort to these little cards we carried around. A lot of the time, we would butcher the language and neither of us could really understand each other.”

Now, all that has changed for South Bethany’s finest. Each squad car is equipped with a Spechguard device to simplify the officers’ work. The PD-5 includes everything from basic commands for a routine traffic stop to translations of the Miranda warning.

“This is leaps and bounds of improvement from what we used to deal with,” Watkins added. “Over a matter of a few days, it pays for itself.”

“It was a great idea,” said South Bethany Chief Joe Deloach. “It’s an amazing device. I’m sure they’ll be a key asset to our department. We’ve been fortunate to get first crack at some of the best products out there.”

The Speechguard PD-5 underwent some intricate testing, originating as computer programming. Since 1990, Speechguard has been designing linguistic software. Four years ago, the Department of Defense approached the company with requests for a hand-held device for the military to operate in the Middle East, overcoming the language barrier there.

“That really gave our content publicity,” said DeLon Phoenix, corporate accountant for the ECTACO product. “We knocked it out of the park, and a year and a half later, groups were asking, ‘What can you do for law enforcement?’”

Before designing an ideal device for the police department, the ECTACO Speechguard team sought feedback from 250 of the top police departments in the country. Some 62 offices replied with content to help the makers of the innovation develop an adequate creation.

The electronic translators are touchscreen- and voice-activated and provide a multitude of functions, from programmable phrases and tactical commands to multilingual dictionaries, an audio player, voice recorder, fact book and much more.

Phoenix now deals directly with products for law enforcement (PD-5) and medical (MD-5).

“They’re becoming more and more popular across the country,” Phoenix said. “The medical ones allow paramedics and the first ones on the scene to diagnose the problem right away.”

ECTACO Speechguard has developed products to simplify work for not only members of the military, law enforcement and medical fields, but also for homeland security workers and even for a civilian modification, which means the technology could come as a handy accessory for travelers.

“It’s nice that a lot of this high-quality technology filters down from the military to law enforcement,” said Watkins. “This will definitely help us out a lot.”