The importance of effective law enforcement interactions with deaf subjects
Monday, April 27, 2020
State and local law enforcement agencies are required to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The U.S. Department of Justice has laid down guidelines for them to follow.
There have been numerous cases of complaints about a lack of understanding for people with disabilities. It is therefore heartwarming to read about stories where officers have gone above and beyond the scope of their duties to help people with hearing difficulties.
A recent ABC News report showed how the police in some rural regions find ways to help their communities. They are working with deaf-blind organizations and advocates to check on deaf-blind residents who don't have the technology to communicate.
Dealing with COVID-19 isolation and social distancing are hard enough. If one had to add the inability to see or hear, it would be almost impossible to survive without help. That's where the men in blue are stepping in. Officers who have the appropriate PPE are coordinating services for deaf-blind associations to check on deaf-blind citizens to make sure they are safe.
In general, police interactions with deaf subjects have a high possibility of leading to misunderstandings, confusion, and even tragedy. Approximately 15% of adults have trouble hearing, and about 28.8 million adults need hearing aids in America.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are entitled to the same services as any other citizen without being treated differently. Law enforcement agencies have adopted a specific policy for communicating with deaf subjects and officers need to familiarize themselves with this policy.
When someone doesn't respond to verbal directions, they may not be intentionally noncompliant but cannot hear. One example of how an officer handled such a situation beautifully was in California this past December.
California Highway Patrol officer Parra Rodriguez reached a DMV office in central Los Angeles while responding to a disturbance call. Officers heard about an ongoing argument with a woman, but when they arrived at the scene, they quickly realized that it was a language barrier causing all the trouble. Officer Rodriguez communicated with the woman using American Sign Language and helped diffuse the situation that could have gone the other way like many times before.
He helped the DMV clerk and the applicant navigate the state ID application process and even paid the woman's application fee. His actions, caught in video, have been shared on social media and received many accolades. He has been praised for the way he showed the side of policing that is seldom recognized or lauded but happens all the time.
Rodriguez's selflessness and adaptability are examples for other officers to follow. However, not all law enforcement officers are familiar with American Sign Language. The ADA has laid down specific steps to minimize problems during interactions with deaf subjects.
Law enforcement agencies have to provide communication aids and services for its officers so that they can communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In cases that require as such, agencies also must provide interpreters who can interpret in a practical, accurate, and impartial manner.
Misunderstandings due to language barriers may arise, and the first few moments of contact are crucial. Deaf people not responding to police officers shouting instructions, reaching into their pockets, or backseat for an interpretive device may lead an officer to feel that they are uncooperative. The officer may believe instead that he or she is reaching for a weapon. Officers need to determine the truth so that a tragic encounter does not happen.
Proper training, therefore, is of utmost importance to ensure equitable treatment of individuals with disabilities. That, along with sensitivity and awareness, will help law enforcement officers deal with deaf subjects better.
Some of the things they need to look out for are cars with visible signs like designated license plates or hand controls. Some departments use preprinted signs and language apps to communicate with hearing-impaired subjects. Others use hand signals instead of calling out to people in a crowd to signal for a person to stop and speak slowly so that they can lip-read.
Officers should also remember that typical tests for intoxication may be ineffective because people with disabilities often lack balance and have an unsteady gait. A set of instructions on how to deal with deaf people and training can go a long way toward reducing false arrests.
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