Law enforcement officers deal with all types of people. Considering the hearing impaired make up nearly 10% of the US population, learning the best way to interact with the deaf and hard of hearing seems like a reasonable thing to do.
One thing that many departments struggle with, however, is having interpreters available. It is difficult to have interpreters for all types of languages on hand, and even more so for sign language. With other verbal languages, officers can use a phone based interpreter when needed. The same option is not available for the deaf.
Written communication is often the next best thing for us officers working in the field. The video suggests limiting written communication and sending for a certified interpreter. Of course, the video is filmed in a major metro area (St. Loius) and shows officers working during the day time. Good luck on finding an interpreter at a smaller agency after 5 pm.
Considering most police officers do not work day shift, and most agencies are small, summoning an interpreter with a 10 minute ETA (as shown in the video) simply isn’t realistic for most of us. So, written communication may be the only decent solution available.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind about using people that are on scene to interpret. First, if they are friends, family or enemies of anyone on scene, they can hardly be considered unbiased in their translation. How can you be sure they are not lying about what is being said?
Secondly, if the impromptu interpreter was on scene during the incident, he or she is a witness themselves. One witness translating for another has the potential of contaminating their recollections of the events. That may paint an inaccurate picture of the events, and will certainly be a point of contention at trial.
If your department doesn’t already have something in place, consider trying to set up a program where interpreters can be called to assist officers. At the very least, it can be a huge help having one or two people that can be called in on extreme emergencies such as a hostage situation or murder investigation.
The video was created by DEAF Inc., a non-profit that seeks to empower the hearing impaired. Thanks to them for posting this video on YouTube so more officers can view it.