- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Police departments across the country have recently put extra emphasis on their community policing efforts, working to improve relations with the black community and other minority groups.

In the same way, in Washington, a special Metropolitan Police Department unit has been working for more than a decade to build trust with another local community.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit is the only such unit in the country. The unit’s two officers - Myra Jordan and Tayna Ellis - both learned sign language outside MPD.

“We are on call 24 hours, seven days a week,” said Ellis.

“And it’s not work to us because it’s something we truly, truly enjoy doing,” Jordan said.

Jordan helped create the unit nearly 15 years ago. Since then, it’s become a major resource for the local deaf community.

Last year alone, the unit responded to more than 300 calls for service.

Shayninna McCoy, a specialist with the local advocacy group Deaf Reach, said, “The deaf community feels confident that their communication will be understood by the police.”

The Washington region is said to be home to the highest concentration of deaf people in the world. Many attend Gallaudet University then stay here for their careers.

Gallaudet’s Public Safety Department works closely with the MPD unit, also offering training to other local law enforcement agencies, teaching officers non-compliance may not be intentional.

Gallaudet University Public Safety Director Ted Baran said, “(Officers) have to understand the possibility that person is deaf.”

Officers are also trained on cultural differences.

“They will be touched. Even from behind. A tap or something like that,” said Baran.

Advocates say this outreach is even more critical after the deadly shooting of a 29-year old deaf man in Charlotte in August.

Pulled over for speeding near his home, neighbors believe Daniel Harris was trying use sign language when a state trooper opened fire.

“We could have prevented this situation from happening,” said McCoy.

Like people of color, many deaf people want better police training. And like people of color, they also discuss among themselves ways to protect themselves during traffic stops.

“Don’t make sudden movements, putting your hands on the wheel. Some kind of hand signaling and gesturing is typical. We’ll point to our ear,” said Shazia Siddiqi, executive director of the Deaf Abused Women Network.

The MPD unit is part of that discussion, encouraging understanding and working to build trust.


Information from: WJLA-TV, https://www.wjla.com

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