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Wis. officer who knows ASL instrumental in working with the deaf community

“One of my supervisors didn’t realize that there were as many deaf people in the county until I worked here,” Deputy Preston Kite said. “He’s surprised by the amount of times I’m called out somewhere”

By Holly Gilvary
The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

RACINE, Wis. — Deputy Preston Kite is the only law enforcement official at the Racine County Sheriff’s Office who knows American Sign Language.

Kite started his career in law enforcement with RCSO more than four years ago, and said he has met more deaf people in Racine County than he anticipated.

“One of my supervisors didn’t realize that there were as many deaf people in the county until I worked here,” Kite said. “He’s surprised by the amount of times I’m called out somewhere.”

Kite said he was introduced to ASL in first grade, when his class had to learn how to sign the alphabet for a play.

He further developed his signing in high school with help from friends who were deaf.

“They would get frustrated with me because I would spell out my whole sentence to them,” Kite said. “So then they would teach me word for word, each word that I would sign, they would teach me that sign.”

Kite took a formal ASL class while studying at Marquette University in Milwaukee and has since had plenty of opportunities to practice his skills at work.

Kite remembers one call when he assisted an officer who had pulled over a deaf woman driving on the interstate.

In order for the woman to see and communicate with the deputies, Kite asked his partner to shine his flashlight on him, rather than on the woman in the vehicle.

“I walk up to the car, and I hand my partner my flashlight, and I said, ‘Here, point this at me,’” Kite said. “You have to come out of your comfort zone a little bit.”

In November, Kite went out of his way to meet a family with a deaf child in Union Grove while he was investigating another call.

He saw a “Deaf Child” street sign, asked a neighbor if she knew which house that family lived in, and then introduced himself.

A story about Kite’s interaction with the family was posted to RCSO’s Facebook page a few weeks later.

The family praised Kite for his kindness, saying he left them his card and told them to reach out if their child ever wanted to meet him.

Public Information Officer Lt. Michael Luell said the RCSO’s Training Unit is considering having Kite train deputies on some basic ASL skills. The Racine County Communications Center also has policies, procedures and technology that assist with calls from people with disabilities, he said.

At the moment, though, while Kite is a “tremendous resource,” Luell said he is not always available to provide assistance.

“Therefore, deputies must be creative in dealing with unpredictable situations which includes people with disabilities, people in a mental health crisis, people in long-term relationship problems, people battling (addictions), people who do not speak English, and much more,” he said.

City of Racine police officers mainly use pen and paper to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to Racine Police Department Public Information Officer Sgt. Kristi Wilcox.

Some officers have also used various translator apps with video communication, she said.

Kite said it is important to connect with the deaf community, as well as other communities who may not have the best relationships with law enforcement.

“The deaf community kind of bumps heads with cops just simply because of the communication (issues),” he said. “The deaf person can’t hear you, so (officers) have to be cognizant of that.”

Connecting with everyone in the community is important, Kite said, because “it shows both sides that people are still people, regardless of disability or race or culture or religion.”


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