Cops Defy Mandate to Improve Discourse with the Deaf

By Drake, John | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

Cops Defy Mandate to Improve Discourse with the Deaf


Drake, John, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The Metropolitan Police Department has not installed telephone devices for deaf persons or found a reliable sign-language interpreting company as required by a legal settlement, The Washington Times has learned.

D.C. police officials, including Chief Charles H. Ramsey, have said communication problems with the deaf have hindered several investigations, most recently the slayings of two freshmen at Gallaudet University.

A settlement signed Nov. 22 prescribes measures to solve the problem, yet D.C. police have missed several deadlines and failed to designate a person to oversee the effort, police and legal sources told The Times.

Officials have not fully complied with a key mandate, which took effect in December, for announcing to officers during roll call new procedures for dealing with deaf persons, sources said.

"I found out during a meeting [with police] their excuse was that one part of the police department didn't get a full copy of the settlement and they needed to type it up," said David Nelson, treasurer of the D.C. Association of the Deaf.

Mr. Nelson said a police official told him "he didn't have a secretary and needed Chief Ramsey to sign off."

"That's a poor excuse and not acceptable," Mr. Nelson told The Times in a telephone interview through a relay operator.

City and police officials signed a settlement with the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington and Vernon Shorter, a deaf man who in 1997 was jailed on a burglary charge that was later dropped.

The department's problems in communicating with the deaf were apparent in an investigation two years ago of Gallaudet students suspected of vandalizing Mount Olivet cemetery. Police charged nine current or former students in the case, but the charges were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge.

Among the settlement's requirements, police officers are supposed to carry cards bearing information about interpreters and the rights of deaf persons - a part of the communication effort deemed the "most important" by the case lawyer who sued the department.

Those cards have not been printed, let alone distributed to officers, sources said.

A senior police official with detailed knowledge of the settlement yesterday confirmed those facts to The Times but insisted "the department is in substantial compliance. …

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