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January 24, 2003

4 officers learn sign language as job aid

From: Augusta Chronicle, GA - 24 Jan 2003

By Greg Rickabaugh
Staff Writer

Solving a crime can be difficult when an investigator has problems communicating with a victim, witness or suspect.

It took Homicide Investigator Richard Roundtree an hour to take a witness' statement from a deaf man after a Nov. 29 slaying at Wesley Arms Apartments in Augusta. It was frustrating, he said.

The Richmond County sheriff's investigator was determined it wouldn't happen again. That's why he volunteered to take a sign-reading class, an idea his supervisors supported.

With an estimated 2,000 people in Augusta who are deaf or hearing impaired, having an officer who knows sign language can be crucial, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said.

"If we have even one (deaf person), we ought to be able to communicate with them. It helps us, and of course it helps them," he said.

Sheriff's officials liked the idea so much that they agreed to pay the fee so another investigator and two road deputies could attend the 10-week class. The class is held Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired office in Augusta.

At a recent class, the four officers, along with seven other residents, were taking instruction from Lisa Duffie.

Their hands were busy as they worked on repeating words and phrases such as "kid," "truck," "school paper" or "I'll call you tonight."

"The hardest part is that so many different signs seem the same, like the same motion," Deputy John Perry III said.

Investigator Greg Newsome, who investigates financial crimes, said a few of the phrases are common sense, such as "hello," "thank you" and "cool."

The officer said they are taught to use facial expressions while signing.

"You can't say I'm sad and have a smile on your face," he said. "She told us to stand in front of a mirror and practice."

Investigator Roundtree said he hopes to finish the sign-reading class before the trial is held in the Wesley Arms Apartments slaying. He could then talk with the deaf witness again.

"Hopefully by the time I finish this class, we can sit down and go over the statement that he gave me," he said.

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