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February 6, 2003

Sign language helping Augusta officers serve public

From: Macon Telegraph, GA - 06 Feb 2003

Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. - It took Richmond County sheriff's investigator Richard Roundtree an hour to take a statement from a deaf man after a shooting at an Augusta apartment building.

The communication barrier was frustrating, Roundtree said.

Determined not to let it happen again, he volunteered to take a sign language course. His supervisors liked the idea so much that the department paid to enroll Roundtree, another investigator and two deputies.

Sign language training is rare in law enforcement agencies around Georgia. Many sheriff's departments, including DeKalb and Cobb counties, usually communicate with deaf inmates through writing or special teletype phone systems.

In Albany, officers use volunteers who know sign language to act as interpreters, police spokesman Michael Tilson said.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said knowing sign language can be crucial in a department that serves more than 2,000 deaf or hearing impaired people in Augusta-Richmond County.

"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.

The 10-week course, which meets twice a week at the Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired office in Augusta, is teaching the officers basic words and phrases, such as "kid," "truck," 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 said they also are taught the importance of using 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."

Roundtree said he hopes to finish the sign language class before the trial for the shooting begins, so he can 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."


Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired:

Information from: The Augusta Chronicle

© 2003 Macon Telegraph