Fla. sheriff's office offers new ways to communicate with hard of hearing

Each officer will carry a placard that has useful cues the officer or citizen can point to

By Dan Scanlan
The Florida Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE COUNTY, Fla. — The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is making an effort to improve communication between officers and people with hearing difficulties.

A virtual Deaf Cop Chat is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday to allow some of the thousands of hearing-impaired residents in Jacksonville to learn more about the Sheriff's Office's Text-to-911 service and newly designed placards for use during interactions.

This is a newly designed placard to help communication between Jacksonville police and people with hearing issues.
This is a newly designed placard to help communication between Jacksonville police and people with hearing issues. (Dan Scanlan/Florida Times-Union)

The online chat is organized by Jacksonville's Center for Independent Living and the Sheriff's Office. Certified sign language interpreters and closed captioning will be provided.

"In the past there has been maybe a negative connotation with the police officers and their interaction with the deaf and hard of hearing, and their willingness to get the preferred communication method to be able to communicate," said Stephanie Monroe, the center's director for deaf services. "This is just an effort to show that JSO is putting forth a good effort to make sure the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community are met."

Assistant Chief Brian Kee said he will be online Tuesday evening to explain the placards and other services to help those who need police services and can't use the spoken word.

[PRACTICE: ASL signs all cops should know]

"When it does happen, we have to get it right. We can't not provide the accommodations and translation services that they need," Kee said. "... The cards are made available to the clients they have. We want our officers to have them and we want anybody that needs them to have them in their cars to make the interaction easier."

The number of deaf people who were involved in issues in 2020 that required police action was only 157 out of 791,000-plus overall calls for service, Kee said, and officers often used a notebook to communicate.

But research shows that people with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime, Center for Independent Living officials said. So the need for a better way to communicate with someone who is deaf and pulled over for a speeding ticket, or flags down an officer, was what drove police and the center to work on the card.

The new card, funded via a federal grant and given to every officer, has information on both sides.

One side offers tips for the officer on the best ways to communicate with someone who is deaf. Don't shine a flashlight in their face, because that makes it hard for them to understand and lip-read, it says. And someone who is deaf can point on the card to the best way they can communicate, such as texting, writing or a qualified sign language interpreter.

[READ: Police contacts with deaf subjects: Tips and resources to keep everyone safe]

"If it's an emergency situation and there is no time to wait for a sign language interpreter to arrive, this is what would be used," Monroe said. "... That is the purpose of the card, to help quickly."

The other side has words or images such as a stop sign or vehicle registration that can be referred to for instances such as a traffic stop. The officer can point to "WARNED," TICKETED" OR "ARRESTED" to tell someone what is happening. Or that person can point to a gas pump, "H" for hospital or tow truck if that's what's needed.

The cards were designed with input from the center to be easy for people and officers to use if no interpreter is available. Monroe said people can request them by emailing info@CILJacksonville.org.

As for calling in a police emergency, those who are deaf have had a system called the teletypewriter (TTY) since the 1960s so they can type their message. Modern systems can handle voice-to-text and text-to-voice communication.

But since 2017, the Sheriff's Office's Text-to-911 has allowed people to send a text message via their cellphone to 911 emergency operators, about 5,200 total since inception, Kee said. Nassau, St. Johns and Clay counties also have that capability.

Unlike a 911 call from a landline, cellphone calls and text messages don't automatically give police the caller's address. So Kee said he will also tell deaf participants on the Deaf Cop Chat about the SMS Text 911 app. That app uses the cellphone's GPS system to tell 911 operators the general area that the call is coming from, plus emergency contact information the user plugs in.

The Deaf Cop Chat will be hosted from 5 to 7 p.m. via Zoom and on Facebook Live. To learn more about CIL Jacksonville visit CILJacksonville.org.

(c)2021 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2021 Police1. All rights reserved.