- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

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. We need to do better, we can do better, and we will do better."
The Times first reported yesterday that D.C. police have not implemented several procedures to improve communication with deaf persons, as mandated by a legal settlement in November.
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 later was dropped.
The department has not:
* Installed TTY machines devices that let deaf persons make and receive phone calls in all police district stations.
* Announced to officers during roll call new procedures for dealing with deaf persons.
* Distributed cards that list resources and information for deaf persons.
* Found a company to provide sign language interpreters who can respond to an incident in 90 minutes.
"If that's all the case, we just have to do better," Chief Gainer said. "Your article pointed out the shortcomings in our department, and that caught us all by surprise."
Police officials responsible for complying with the settlement met with Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday, and he told them, "You're accountable. Get this done," according to Chief Gainer.
Chief Gainer will handle the operational side, and Steve Gaffigan, senior executive director of the Office of Quality Assurance, will handle technology and administrative matters.
Mr. Gaffigan told The Times yesterday he is still trying to obtain and examine all the legal requirements, but said, "I'm determined to get us to full compliance as soon as possible.
"I honestly couldn't determine that, where there were breakdowns," he said. "Whatever is required in that document, I intend to do myself or bring it to the appropriate person's attention."
Mr. Gaffigan said two TTY machines were delivered yesterday and that the rest should arrive and be installed next week.
Meanwhile, a senior police official had blamed some of the department's problems with the deaf on a Maryland company, Birnbaum Interpreting Services in Silver Spring, saying it does not comply with its contract.
But a company official yesterday said Birnbaum never had a contract with D.C. police, only an "ad hoc service agreement."
"I don't know what they're talking about," said Karl Kosiorek, the company's vice president of interpreting. "They have what we consider a service agreement. It's ad hoc service. If they need somebody, they call us, but there's no guarantee we'll have someone there in a certain number of minutes."
Chief Gainer said that issue "was being managed in the legal, bureaucratic morass of government" and that officials are trying to resolve it.

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