- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

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."

The official, speaking on background, said officials have announced the new procedures during roll call. "The word is out," he said. "We can't guarantee everyone heard it. It's recurring."

Advocates for the deaf say the settlement's requirements are crucial for police to be able to solve crimes involving members of the deaf community.

"I don't want to demonize the police," said Elaine Gardner, an attorney for the Disability Rights Council who handled the case. "I think this was a very unusual circumstance. That's the whole point. It should have made them a little more prepared for a situation like this."

"The affectation of the settlement is tremendously important to ensure investigations of this nature are made effectively," said Linda Royster, executive director of the Disability Rights Council.

"Without effective communication, the police department would be hopelessly unable to resolve these crimes," Ms. Royster said.

Most D.C. police have long labored without TTY machines telecommunication devices that allow the deaf to make and receive phone calls. The Communications Division has TTY capability for 911 calls.

"I find it very difficult to believe they didn't have TTYs in the first place," Mr. Nelson said. "I find it strange because if they would have a mind of their own, they would have gone out and bought one, but they didn't."

Officials were supposed to have bought and installed the machines in all seven police district stations by Monday.

When The Times called the stations yesterday, only the Fifth District had a TTY, which had been donated by the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance after the first Gallaudet student was killed in September.

Gallaudet, which has about 2,000 students, was established by Congress in 1864 as the country's only four-year liberal arts university for the deaf and hearing impaired.

The senior police official said the machines "are being procured right now" and should be installed "immediately, within days."

Later in an interview, he said they should be installed within several weeks.

The department also has had problems with the sign-language interpreting company Birnbaum Interpreting Services of Silver Spring it has contracted with.

"Apparently they did have some trouble getting qualified interpreters with whom they had a contract," Ms. Royster said.

The senior police official said some interpreters are not willing to testify in court, which is a frequent requirement. "We're trying to address that," he said. "Before we can replace them, we must keep them in place."

Birnbaum's vice president of interpreting, Karl Kosiorek, did not return calls seeking comment last week and yesterday.

According to police sources, Capt. Michael Eldridge originally was put in charge of overseeing the changes mandated by the settlement.

But Capt. Eldridge told The Times last week he was not in charge of the effort, adding that the department is "holding a meeting next week to find out who should be the program manager."

The senior police official said Capt. Eldridge's boss, Steve Gaffigan, senior executive director of quality assurance, is responsible for implementing the overall agreement.

A dispatcher yesterday told The Times he would page Mr. Gaffigan and tell him to call back. Mr. Gaffigan did not call back.

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