Hearing Impaired and Police Interactions

You may or may not have heard about the 29-year-old man with hearing impairment who was shot and killed during a police interaction last month in Charlotte, North Carolina. On August 18th of this year, Daniel Kevin Harris was driving down the I-480 highway when an officer attempted to pull him over for speeding. It is assumed that Harris did not hear the police sirens, as he continued down the freeway for about 7 miles. Mr. Harris exited the freeway at Seven Oaks Drive.

While an active investigation is still underway, exact details of the incident are unclear after this point. What we do know is that upon exiting his vehicle, only a few hundred meters from his home, an interaction with a police officer led to the shooting and death of Daniel Harris. He was deaf and also had a speech impairment.

Mr. Harris was unarmed and left behind a 4-year-old child.

To read more on this devastating story, click here.

How can people who are deaf or living with hearing impairment interact with police officers safely?

Although we urge police organizations to provide proper training for their officers to prevent another case like Kevin Harris’ from occurring, there are some things members of the deaf community or those with hearing impairment can do to safely interact with police.

Getting pulled over for any reason can be an extremely nerve-wracking experience, and even more so for those who are deaf or live with a hearing impairment. What can you do to stay calm, protect your rights, communicate your needs, and stay safe when interacting with police officers?

ACLU has partnered with HEARD and award-winning actress Marlee Matlin (who is also the wife of a police officer) in creating an informative video that answers these questions for individuals with hearing impairment. watch it here.

Here is a basic outline of more pertinent topics covered in this video.

If you get pulled over:

1. Be prepared. Permanently keep a card in the visor of the driver’s side sun shade that clearly reads, “I am deaf” or “I have a hearing impairment”. This way, it will be one of the first things the officer sees as he or she approach your vehicle.

2. Be aware. Many times, it is not possible to hear a police siren behind you. Check your rear-view mirror periodically for police lights that indicate you have been pulled over.

3. Remain calm. Once pulled over, pull the sun visor down so your sign is clearly visible. Then, roll down the window, turn off your car, keep your hands on the steering wheel and wait for the officer to approach.

4. Make eye contact and communicate your needs. After eye contact has been established, communicate in a way that works for you that you are hearing impaired. Communicate your needs in writing. Make sure that the officer understands what you need in order to understand the conversation – this can mean paper and pencil or an interpreter.

5. Do not touch an officer. Many times, (especially members of the deaf community) use their hands to communicate – and this often involves touching. When interacting with police, it is important to remember to never touch an officer, as it can be viewed as a threat. If you need to get an officer’s attention, wave or vocalize, if possible.

6. Do not continue to communicate if you do not understand. If you are not sure what is happening, please stop the conversation and wait for the accommodations you have requested. It is your right to be provided with what you need in order to clearly understand a police interaction.

7. Know your rights. You have a right to your requested accommodations due to your hearing loss. You also have a right to refuse a search of your car, person or home. (If police officers believe a gun or other weapon may be present, they have the right to pat down the outside of your clothing).

How can I help?

There are many steps that can be taken to make interactions between police officers and those with hearing impairment safer and less stressful.

1. Sign this petition. Urge the Attorney General to provide appropriate training to police officers when interacting with people with hearing impairment. click here to sign.

2. Donate to Daniel Kevin Harris’ Memorial Fund. After funeral costs are covered, the rest of the money will be used to set up a foundation in his name – aimed at educating police officers on how to interact with those with hearing and speech impairments. Donate here.

3. Treat your hearing loss. If you or someone you love has hearing loss that can be treated with hearing aids, getting treatment can greatly improve life, relationships, cognitive abilities and even safety when interacting with police.