William A. Johnson, Jr.

Rochester (NY) Police Department's Deaf Awareness Training and Outreach

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

The Rochester Police Departmentís Citizenís Police Academy is designed to give citizens a better understanding of what officers face in the line of duty. The current class includes 15 deaf students. It is believed to be the first citizenís police academy in the nation to have deaf students. The students will help police understand the special needs of a deaf person. As graduates, they will provide the Rochester Police Department (RPD) with 15 ambassadors to the deaf community.

The Rochester Police Department has also begun training classes for officers on deaf awareness. RPD is also producing a new training video about working with the deaf.

2. When was the program created and why?

The Rochester metropolitan area has one of the largest deaf populations in the nation. Rochester has been a center of the deaf since 1876 when the Rochester School for the Deaf opened. In 1968, the federal government established the National Technical Institute for the Deafóthe nationís second-largest university for the deafóon the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology. The advocacy group Self Help for Hard-of-Hearing Persons estimates that 90,000 residents in the Rochester area, or 8 percent of the total population, have hearing loss.

In 1998, after several unfortunate situations in which police and emergency workers were unable to communicate adequately with deaf victims, a citizenís Task Force to Address Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was established. The task force is intended to be an ongoing community resource. It formulates recommendations for improved access to government and governmental services for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons in Greater Rochester.

Initial recommendations included more sign language and sensitivity training for police officers, which the Rochester Police Department began implementing immediately. RPD then successfully recruited deaf students for the Citizenís Police Academy.

3. How do you measure the programís effectiveness?

Historically, some in the deaf community have feared being arrested or injured if they werenít able to communicate with police. Effectiveness, therefore, is measured by increased community support and greater morale among officers.

Recommendations from participants in the Citizenís Police Academy are solicited after each session and at the conclusion of the course. One current participant observes, "I have this opportunity to share with deaf people in the community how the police system works and how we can work together in deaf awareness." Another participant recounted a recent positive experience with police: The officer who stopped her when she was driving shined the flashlight on his face rather than hers, so she could read his lips. The officer had recently completed deaf awareness training.

The Task Force to Address Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is currently preparing empirical effectiveness measurements.

4. How is the program financed?

The Citizenís Police Academy (CPA) is partially funded by the Department of Justiceís Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Financing for sign language interpreters for deaf CPA participants is from a Rochester City Council appropriation. Police officer deaf awareness training is funded through general police department revenues.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

The Rochester Police Departmentís deaf awareness officer training and deaf community outreach are components of the larger mission of the Task Force to Address Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The 30-member task force was initiated by the deaf community. The task force includes a retired Supreme Court judge, business owners, service providers, elected officials, activists, and private individualsóall of whom are deaf or have direct knowledge of the needs and experiences of the deaf. The task forceís recommendations are monitored in the local newspapers, including Deaf Rochester News.

The task forceís recommendations have received the strong support of Rochester Police Chief Robert J. Duffy and Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr. As a complement to the citizenís task force, Mayor Johnson appointed an internal task force to improve the delivery of all city services to the deaf and hard of hearing community. The two task forces exchanged information and worked along parallel paths. Mayor Johnson allocated $75,000 of the current city budget to implementing the task forcesí combined recommendations.

6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?

The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that more than 22 million Americans have a hearing loss. An estimated 87 out of every 10,000 people are deaf. A modest amount of resources devoted to deaf awareness training can avert the fear, and even tragedy, that arises when emergency workers are unable to communicate adequately with the deaf. A communityís quality of life is enhanced when its government is committed to delivering effective, responsive, and quality services to all citizens.

7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?

Citizenís police academies and officer sensitivity training can bridge the gap between the law enforcement community and a subculture in such a manner that both are strengthened by the experience. Deaf persons are an often overlooked and under-represented subculture.

Support from the mayor and police chief for outreach efforts is essential. Promoting tolerance and respect for diversity starts from the top down.

For more information, please contact:

Chief Robert J. Duffy
Rochester Police Department
150 Plymouth Avenue South
Rochester, New York 14614
Telephone: (716) 428-7033

Officer Ada Lana-Simms
Professional Development Section
Telephone: (716) 428-7540

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