Deaf Community Working Together With Police

Posted at 10:31 PM, Aug 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 18:27:47-04

The shooting of an unarmed Deaf man by a police officer in North Carolina has brought up an important conversation around the country, focusing on how the deaf community and police should interact with each other.

"I think it's a very sad situation and I'm sorry of what happened in North Carolina, that could have been prevented," Mike Helms, director of adult education and outreach for Bridges, a Deaf community outreach group and part of the Tennessee Council for the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing, said on Wednesday. 

Helms was born Deaf due to a fever and either speaks to people through sign language, an interpreter, or through written text, and he believes there needs to be great understanding between the Deaf community and law enforcement. 

"I think it's a matter of getting accurate resources and law enforcement improving their understanding," Helms explained. 

In Middle Tennessee, this conversation has been ongoing for years in many cities and solutions have been worked toward, such as having the Deaf community use special license plates so officers can know who is driving the car, or when actually face to face with an officer, having special identification or pen and paper so communication can be made easier. 

Bridges also offers training for the Deaf and hard of hearing communities on how to interact with law enforcement, with the next event coming up in October.  

While that helps police officers when dealing with the Deaf community, cooperation has to go both ways. 

Bridges developed and offers critical training to law enforcement on interacting safely and effectively with the Deaf and hard of hearing communities and actively tries to engage with law enforcement. 

Helms himself has worked with eight different precincts through Bridges in Middle Tennessee as well as the police academy. 

At the Hendersonville Police Department, officers recognized the need to be able to communicate with the Deaf community years ago, and by working with Bridges and The Sign Club, the department was able to institute special training for each class of new officers.

In those classes, officers are taught basic sign language, and through their training, officers are given a situation involving a Deaf individual to give them experiences they may encounter in their community. 

"We started understanding, we started communicating," Greg Freudenthal, community services director for Hendersonville Police Department, said. 

According to Freudenthal, those small gestures have made a big impact, improving trust and cooperation, and improving the community as a whole by showing that police officers and people as a whole care. 

"Every time I come to work, I hope to impact somebody's life in a positive manner," Freudenthal explained.

To further their ability to communicate with the Deaf community, Hendersonville Police are hoping to put a new iPad into the rotation by the end of the year that will allow them to speak to an interpreter live when dealing with someone from the Deaf community. 

This program will be the first of it's kind in Sumner County, and if they find the program successful, it may be a technology that more law enforcement in Middle Tennessee embrace. 

To learn more about the Deaf community in Middle Tennessee and for resources, you can visit the Bridges website.