Photo of Rosemary Musachio
Photo of Rosemary Musachio

Author: Rosemary Musachio, Chief Strategic Officer at Ruh Global Communications

Communication between the police and individuals with hearing and/or speech impairments is vital.  Miscommunication can cause wrongful arrests or releases, unnecessary agitation or force, or further risk of injury or even death.  For instance, If someone with a hearing impairment is stopped by the police, they may be unable to convey the reason for it while the person may not be able to respond to their questions.

Police departments have handled these situations in different ways.  Some have deaf individuals write down what they want to say.  However, because the syntax of American Sign Language (ASL) is different from that of English, police may have difficulty reading what the deaf person has written.  Other police departments call upon live sign language interpreters to come and assist with communication needs.  Yet, the interpreter may take an hour or longer arriving at the location.

The Cleveland Police has implemented a more reliable solution to communicate with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.  With the help from a portion of a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the department purchased an ipad for each district that includes an ipad video interpreter application called ZVRS.  To communicate with a crime victim, suspect, or witness who is deaf, a police office would launch the ZVRS app to access a live video interpreter who uses ASL.  Cleveland police officers have received training to use the app.

The Houston Police Department also uses Video Remote Interpreters (VRI) to communicate with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.  When a deaf individual visits a police station or division, the police officer dials an interpreter.  Within minutes, the ASL expert would appear on screen.  As the officer talks to the interpreter, the deaf person looks into the monitor to see the interpreter and signs what is being said in real time.  In return, the deaf person comments or answers by signing to the camera, while the interpreter voices what they are signing through the speakers on the monitor and police assistance is provided or a report can be made.  This service can be utilized 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

Many other police departments such as the New York Police Department are planning to get similar assistance technology (AT) to improve relations with the deaf community, saving time and improving clarity.  Better communications makes all parties safer and lesser frustrated.