Quad-Cities Deaf Club, Davenport Police explore ways to better communication
Magdiel Sanchez's death serves as the latest example of the need for more effective communication between law enforcement officers and people who are either deaf or hard of hearing.
Sanchez, 35, was shot and killed in Oklahoma City two months ago after police officers deemed him to be a threat as he walked closer to them.
Sanchez was holding a 2-foot metal pipe, which he used as a communications tool, but not hearing neighbors' pleas that Sanchez was deaf, one officer deployed a taser while the other opened fire despite Sanchez standing 15 feet away, according to news reports.
Prior to being shot, Sanchez had moved toward the officers to read their lips because he could not understand their commands to drop the pipe.
The issues between law enforcement and people who are deaf or hard of hearing are a nationwide problem. But the Quad-Cities Deaf Club and the Davenport Police Department are taking a proactive step toward bettering the lines of communication to avoid tragedies like the one that befell Sanchez.
Although it's still in the preliminary development phases, both sides are working on a pilot program that Quad-Cities Deaf Club President Dirk Hillard hopes will be unveiled by winter 2018.
"We will provide the training to the police department on how best to interact with the deaf community," Hillard wrote in an email. "We will distribute a card for deaf drivers to display, explaining to officers that they are deaf and how to communicate with them. We will also train deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens on how to interact with the police because the onus of responsibility is on both populations."
Like Sanchez's story, there have been a number of incidents over the past 20 years that have served as an impetus for change.
Since 2016, there have been four fatal shootings involving law enforcement and people who were hearing impaired.
While not comprehensive, a database compiled by Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf has found 45 incidents of police brutality or discrimination against people that are hearing impaired over the past 20 years.
"There are stories of deaf people being shot because they are reaching for their information in the glove box and do not hear the officer’s commands to keep their hands in view," Hillard wrote. "Fearing for their lives, officers have shot unarmed deaf people because they misconstrued the deaf person’s actions and assumed dangerous intent.
"There are also stories of deaf and (hard of hearing) people being interrogated without the use of an interpreter. They are unable to understand the officers’ intents and unable to tell their side of the story."
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, police officers are required to provide "effective communication" with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Hillard experienced a lack of effective communication when he was involved in a car accident a few years ago. After the officer identified that he was deaf, Hillard said he was excluded from the conversation despite there being other ways the officer could communicated.
"The officer looked to the hearing person for all of the facts," Hillard wrote. "Because of the language barrier between myself and the officer, I was unable to have my side of the story heard. It is not fair that the other driver got to have their explanation of the accident taken as gospel and mine was ignored."
In holding a few meetings with more to come, Maj. Jeff Bladel said the overall goal is to improve communications and develop training.
Bladel said officers coming out of the academy receive a three to five hour block of training, which is typically followed up on every two years.
The training provided helps officers identify resources to utilize in the field when they need them.
“The ultimate goal is to evaluate what has been trained on, get feedback and try to make improvements,” Bladel said.
One of the ideas briefly talked about between both sides is the creation of a visor card.
The cards indicate not only that the driver is hearing impaired, but also ways to communicate more effectively. They include photos to show what the officer is looking for or why the person was pulled over.
While there are no definitive numbers about the number of people that are hearing impaired in the area, Hillard said he's seen estimates of at least 1,000 people.
Hillard said the plan was to expand the program to other departments in both the Iowa and Illinois Quad-Cities.
The hope is with better communication the Quad-Cities can avoid the same type of tragedies that were otherwise deemed preventable.
"We are wanting to bridge the communication divide before something terrible happens," Hillard wrote. "Communication access is a nationwide problem. We are being proactive so our communication breakdowns do not have the same tragic consequences and to assist the police so that they can have the most accurate information to base their investigations off of."
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