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NYPD Launches Pilot Program to Help Officers Communicate With Deaf People

By Ben Fractenberg | April 18, 2017 10:18am
 The NYPD is starting a new pilot program to provide sign language interpreters to officers in the field.
The NYPD is starting a new pilot program to provide sign language interpreters to officers in the field.
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MANHATTAN — Officers in three precincts will get assistance in communicating with Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) people as part of a 12-week NYPD pilot program starting Monday, according to officials.

American Sign Language interpreters and tablets with video-based interpreting will be provided to officers in the East Village, Jackson Heights and northwestern Staten Island as part of the program, advocates and police said.

"This has been a long-standing issue. It’s been a long road to even get to this point," Antony Gemmell with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest told DNAinfo New York. "[If a] deaf person needs immediate help on street, how do they interact with police officers?"

Several DHH people have sued the NYPD in recent years, including a 54-year-old woman who said she was arrested without explanation and never read her Miranda rights.

The lack of resources also made it hard for DHH people to report crimes and there were instances of "people stealing away in the middle of the night to report being abused and essentially being turned away at the police station because there is no one there to speak with them," Gemmell added. 

The program will “test innovative ways for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community to access NYPD services,” said the department’s Deputy Commissioner of Collaborative Policing Susan Herman in a statement.

There are already officers trained in sign language, but they were not always to immediately provide assistance to DHH people, a police spokesman said.

Gemmell said that officers would use other means of communication, like writing down questions, but that created an unfair barrier.

"I just don’t think requiring someone to write on a notepad suffices," the lawyer said. "We shouldn't have to settle for anything other than the easiest way for us to communicate."

The advocate added that officers may also need to interact with a young child who may be able to sign, but not yet be able to write.

If an interpreter is not available, police will be able access an interpreter service through a video program on their tablet, according to Gemmell.

"It’s obviously an exciting and important first step," the lawyer said. "I think at the same time there’s a feeling we need to watch very closely and wait to see what happens."