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July 3, 2003

Police learn about needs of deaf people

From: Democrat and Chronicle, NY - Jul 3, 2003

By Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(July 3, 2003) — Thursday, July 03, 2003 — The first time a rookie cop encounters a deaf civilian can be frustrating for both parties if communication doesn't happen.

In an attempt to better prepare 32 police academy recruits for what to expect, six deaf and hard-of-hearing safety officers from Rochester Institute of Technology gave a five-hour crash course to the class Wednesday.

The recruits learned very basic sign language and such things as how to get the attention of a deaf person and when an interpreter should be called.

And they participated in role-playing scenarios involving a landlord dispute, a traffic accident and someone simply looking for directions.

"I was actually frightened to encounter a deaf person on the street in a life-threatening situation," said Rochester police recruit Daniel Brochu. "Now I don't think it will be a problem."

RIT has the unique ability to train officers in other departments because RIT officers must know sign language. RIT is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, with more than 1,200 students.

One instructor, Paul Kuplicki Jr., 21, an NTID student from Sterling Heights, Mich., said he wanted police to be aware of the needs of the deaf.

"I don't want them to be completely overwhelmed," he said. "Hopefully with this little bit of sign language, it will inspire them to learn more."

Campus Safety Officer Tony Wallace, 25, said that by teaching the recruits, he wants the deaf community to be less fearful of police.

In 1997, Rochester police shot and killed a deaf man armed with knives. While the shooting was justified, the incident raised questions about the preparedness police had to deal with deaf citizens.

"We find it critically important to understand the needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community," said Rochester Deputy Police Chief Cedric Alexander. In New York, police recruits are required to have two hours of police academy training about all disabilities. Locally, recruits are given four hours on other disabilities in addition to five hours on deaf issues.

Rochester has one of the largest deaf populations in the country. Although no accurate numbers exist, experts agree several thousand deaf individuals who use sign language live in the community.

This is RIT's third recruit class and the first with Rochester Police Department recruits. James Bundy, manager of diversity initiatives and patrol services for RIT's Campus Safety Department, hopes grant money will allow his officers to train recruits in other areas.

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.