- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

The Metropolitan Police Department has begun to resolve its communication problems with the deaf but has yet to fulfill the requirements of a legal settlement.

"I think we're probably at a good 50 [percent], if not more, in terms of meeting the agreement, in terms of compliance," said Nola Joyce, a senior police official who is leading much of the effort.

The department has missed almost all of its deadlines to implement the requirements, which now are being carried out, officials said. They include:

• Installing TTY machines devices that let deaf persons make and receive telephone calls in the seven police district stations.

• Announcing to officers at roll call procedures for dealing with deaf persons.

• Distributing to officers information cards that explain resources and rights that deaf persons have when dealing with the police.

• Employing a sign-language interpreting company that can provide certified interpreters within 90 minutes at all times.

A lack of coordination within the department led to the delay in complying with the terms of the settlement, said Steve Gaffigan, senior executive director for the Office of Quality Assurance.

"A couple of balls got dropped, but I think we picked them up very quickly, and we're moving forward now," he said.

The Washington Times first reported Feb. 22 that the Police Department had failed to implement major portions of a legal agreement that called for communication improvements with the deaf.

City and police officials on Nov. 22 signed the settlement with the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington and Vernon Shorter, a deaf man who was jailed in 1997 on a burglary charge that later was dropped.

Mr. Gaffigan said the department has installed TTY machines at the seven district stations. But officials said no one in the department knows how to use the devices.

Training began Monday and the phone numbers will be announced at the end of this week or early next week, Mr. Gaffigan said.

Police are catching up on the requirement to issue to officers information cards for deaf persons. The cards explain their right to have the services of an interpreter within 90 minutes, among other things.

Mr. Gaffigan said police have written the final draft of the information cards, and the disability rights council is reviewing it.

On Monday, the department began announcing to officers at roll call new procedures for dealing with the deaf a provision advocates for the deaf say is one of the most important.

Sealing a contract with a sign-language interpreting company has been more problematic. Police signed a "purchase order," or temporary contractual agreement, with Birnbaum Interpreting Services of Silver Spring but "they've raised questions about getting there within 90 minutes," Mr. Gaffigan said.

"It's an interim agreement we've put in place to make sure we have service," he said.

"There's some real problems with that purchase order process," said Elaine Gardner, the attorney who sued the Police Department for the Disability Rights Council. "I'm not real satisfied with that."

Ms. Gardner, of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said the Police Department is under budget pressures and had to wait until October, when the new fiscal year begins, to get a permanent contract.

The District has a significant deaf population, with the presence of Gallaudet University, the world's largest liberal arts university for the deaf, and scores of federal agencies that hire deaf workers.

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