Police Lag Area Agencies in Dealing with the Deaf

Article excerpt

The Metropolitan Police Department is the only local law enforcement agency without basic procedures and resources to deal with deaf persons, The Washington Times has learned.

The five surrounding jurisdictions - the city of Alexandria and Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George's counties - all have protocols for deaf persons, including an outside agency ready to provide sign-language interpreters, police officials said yesterday.

The District has a significant deaf population with the presence of Gallaudet University, the world's most prestigious school for the deaf, and scores of federal agencies that hire deaf workers.

But in providing training and resources for dealing with deaf persons, D.C. police lag behind their nearby counterparts, even though city officials signed a legal agreement to resolve the problems in November.

"I don't know why historically it wasn't done," said Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer. "For the past couple of years, we simply didn't concentrate completely enough on this issue, and we need to get better."

Outlying police departments provide some training to officers for dealing with deaf persons, and each agency has an outside organization to provide sign language interpreters, officials said.

In Alexandria - whose police force of 278 officers is 1/13th the size of the District's 3,600-officer department - seven officers know sign language, said Lt. John Crawford, a police department spokesman.

If no one is available, the communications division calls the state's relay service, which then finds an interpreter to respond to an incident, Lt. Crawford said.

The D.C. police department's communication problems with the deaf stymied an investigation of Gallaudet students suspected of vandalizing Mount Olivet cemetery in 1999. Police charged nine current or former students in the case, but the charges were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge.

The department's failings came to light most recently during investigations into the slayings of two freshmen at Gallaudet within five months.

Police arrested a freshman from New Hampshire after the first killing in September, but prosecutors dropped the charges the next day. Another freshman, Joseph M. Mesa, 20, of Guam, was charged with both slayings this month and awaits trial.

"Certainly, the terrible tragedy at Gallaudet has focussed everybody . . . on issues concerning the deaf," Chief Gainer said. "We pledge to get better at it. …