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Police reach out to the deaf

April 10, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Something as routine as being pulled over by a police officer for a traffic violation can be an intimidating experience, especially for people who cannot hear, according to Anita Bussard of the Deafnet Association of Hagerstown.

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Bussard said deaf people may fear their actions could be misinterpreted by police, and could result in them being arrested or even shot.

An officer could misinterpret the action of reaching for a notepad as going for a gun, or might not believe a person is deaf, she said.

"A lot of times deaf people get very upset when you stop them. They are scared and if you can't communicate with them they can panic," said Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class Kyle D. George of the Hagerstown Barracks.

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To help members of law enforcement across Maryland communicate with the deaf on a basic level, Bussard and Deafnet Director Harold Bible conducted an Adopt a Cop seminar Monday.

The eight-hour course is designed to teach law enforcement officers how to communicate with the deaf by using sign language and clarifies some behavior used by the deaf and hard of hearing, said Bussard.

Members of Hagerstown City Police, Maryland State Police from the Hagerstown, McHenry and Frederick barracks and the Garrett County, Md., Sheriff's Office attended.

The officers learned to sign the alphabet, dates, numbers, days of the week, phrases, questions, locations, directions, health and medical signs and parts of the body.

The curriculum included learning to sign questions or phrases often used by police such as "Are you hurt?" "Do you need an ambulance?" "We are giving you a speeding ticket" "Sign here," and "Do you need to go to a hospital?"

Officers got a chance to play roles in which situations such as domestic abuse, a traffic stop, loitering and a medical emergency were simulated.

Not all deaf people can read lips, so it is important that police have a general understanding of sign language and the mannerisms of the deaf, said Bussard.

Hagerstown Patrolman Charles D. Coy said he recently went to a traffic accident involving a deaf person and had to use handwritten notes to communicate.

"It would have been quicker and made things a lot easier" had he been able to communicate in sign language, he said.

Hagerstown City Police Officer Michelle D. Deavers said she occasionally encounters deaf people while on the job.

Deavers said she had learned some sign language while a student at Grace Academy in Hagerstown and wanted to increase her knowledge and ability to do her job by taking the Deafnet course.

"I find it interesting," she said.

Deavers said she plans to practice her signing skills so she will retain them.

"You only get out of it how much you are willing to put into it," said Deavers.

The Deafnet Adopt a Cop program will be held again in the fall and may be offered in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. A $25 dollar fee includes the cost of a textbook.

Officers interested in attending may call Deafnet at 301-791-9025.

Deafnet is a private, nonprofit agency that promotes the concerns that affect the deaf and hard of hearing in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

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