In the News: Phoenix Police Officers Train to Communicate with Hard of Hearing People

In the News: Phoenix Police Officers Train to Communicate with Hard of Hearing People

About the Training Opportunity

For the very first time, the Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona Commission for Deaf and the Hard of Hearing have teamed up to improve relations between police officers and the deaf and hearing impaired community. The training opportunity gave officers the chance to get specialized training on how to handle tactile situations with a person who has a hearing impairment.

On top of education for officers, volunteers from the deaf and hard of hearing community were also given the opportunity to learn. Volunteers were able to participate in role-play of common situations from the perspective of the officers. Emmett Hassen, a hearing impaired participant stated, “there’s been some anxiety because I didn’t really understand what they did on a daily basis, but after the training that we had today, it really does help understand that more so it relieves some of that” (http://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/arizona-news/special-police-training-on-how-to-communicate-with-people-who-are-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing).

Throughout the day, the general consensus seemed to be positive for both the deaf volunteers as well as the police officers. For example, Sargent David Montoya felt the training made him more aware of things he could do as an officer to improve communication with someone who has a hearing impairment. “It helps us understand if they’re having these challenges” he says, “if they’re struggling to communicate, we’re part of that communication. Communication is a two-way street. There are things we can do on our end like … a deaf person may have that card in their visor that has information, being aware of alternative ways of communication as opposed to just talking.”

Ultimately, the training was positive for all involved and improved relationships were forged between the deaf and hard of hearing community and the Phoenix police department.

Is This Really Necessary?

For most of us, getting pulled over is unnerving and stressful. For people living with a hearing impairment, these feelings are amplified. While most interactions between police officers and members of the hearing-impaired community end peacefully, there have been situations where a little miscommunication has had deadly results.

In 2016, a 29-year-old man was shot and killed by a police officer in North Carolina. Daniel Harris was unarmed, and only feet from his front door at the time of the shooting. According to the officer involved, Daniel had been speeding and when the officer attempted to pull him over, Daniel continued driving instead. It is unclear whether Harris knew he was being pulled over, as he would have been unable to hear the sirens. Upon arriving home, Harris exited his vehicle and an exchange occurred between him and the officer, which ended in Harris being shot and killed on the scene. Witnesses to the tragic event say it appeared that Harris was attempting to communicate via sign language. According to most reports, Daniel Harris was unarmed and had just landed an exciting new job. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/daniel-harris-shooting-mourners-remember-deaf-man-killed-police-questions-n636776).

Tragically, Daniel Harris’ story is not unique. Just a few months ago another deaf man was fatally shot by police, this time in Oklahoma. In September 2017, officers in Oklahoma City were responding to a hit-and-run incident that led them to an address where they encountered 35-year-old Magdiel Sanchez. Sanchez was holding a two-foot metal pipe with a leather strap around his wrist. Officers report ordering Sanchez to drop the weapon, but he did not comply. Neighbors who were witness to the shooting report yelling to the police officers that Sanchez was deaf and unable to hear them. Unfortunately, their cries went unheard and two officers fired fatal shots at the same time. It was also reported that Sanchez also had developmental disabilities and was unable to talk. Medical personnel pronounced Sanchez dead on the scene. Sanchez’s father owned the car involved in the hit and run and Magdiel was not in the vehicle at the time of the incident (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/21/552527929/oklahoma-city-police-fatally-shoot-deaf-man-despite-yells-of-he-cant-hear-you).

These terrible stories are difficult to comprehend and shed a fair amount of light on the need for more training for police officers when they come into contact with a person who has a hearing impairment. More police departments should follow Phoenix’s lead and implement training procedures to help prevent tragic accidents like the two stories mentioned above. If you are deaf or have a hearing impairment, the ALCU has put together this helpful video with tips on how to interact with police officers: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/deaf-rights-what-do-when-dealing-police.

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