N O V 2 0 1 7 D E C AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER: TIPS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT DEALINGWITH DEAF PEOPLE
Y ou might assume a deaf person is being deliberately defiant or even belligerent if she does not respond to you immediately, for instance. Or a deaf person might reach into her pocket to pull out a card that tells you “I Am Deaf,” and your alarms might go off because it could appear she is reaching for a gun. Fortunately, few law enforcement encounters with deaf people escalate to an alarming level. Most of them proceed not that differently than they might with any other person. But the more you know, the better prepared you are. Many officers are unsure about the best way to interact with deaf people, and wonder: Is it reasonable to expect that they can read my lips? If they have a companion who knows sign language, can I use the companion as an interpreter? Is it safe to communicate by writing messages? What else am I legally required to know and do? continued on page 38
Probably the most trying and critical moment you’ll face as a law enforcement officer encountering a deaf person is simply figuring out that they’re deaf. Once you know that, you can generally proceed according to some best practices and standard tips, and usually have a fairly friction-free encounter. But if you are investigating someone who seems unresponsive, and you haven’t yet figured out they’re deaf—well, then things can get dicey.
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