Imagine car that the police are attempting to pull over for one of the million traffic violations a cop can use to pull you over. But in this scenario we are imaging, the car does not pull over for the squad car. Immediately, the cop must become stressed. When enforcement decides to pull you over, the cop does not know if you are a responsible driver that just committed a traffic violation or if you just robbed a bank and were armed with an assault weapon. Thus, any traffic stop is stressful for a police officer. When the cop is able to pull over the car and approaches to talk to the driver, the stress level does not lower if the driver does not cooperate.
But what if the driver’s lack of cooperation is not because the driver wants to give the cop a hard time, but because the driver does not know what the cop wants?
Welcome to what happens to a deaf person who is pulled over for a traffic offense.
Deaf people and those who are hard of hearing say worries over being misunderstood and not being able to follow police instructions raise tensions during traffic stops, volatile situations to begin with. Miscommunication and a lack of police training have led to scary situations in which hearing-impaired drivers have been dragged from their cars or found themselves staring down the barrel of a gun. For instance, Andrea “Dre” Hollingsworth was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. She could not communicate with the officers. She tried to let the cop know she was deaf but he kept talking. Eventually she ended up in handcuffs for not cooperating with the cop. “Las Vegas NAACP reacts to detainment of Black deaf woman” (April 22, 2021) https://www.fox5vegas.com/news/las-vegas-naacp-reacts-to-detainment-of-black-deaf-woman/article_02287c1a-a3f9-11eb-a955-531ca71f81f6.html
Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, has explained that “the vast majority of law enforcement receive either no training at all or only perfunctory training” in dealing with members of the public who have hearing loss.” “When Police Officers Don’t Know About the ADA” (Sept. 26, 2017) https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/09/the-steadily-problematic-interactions-between-deaf-americans-and-police/541083/ Sadly, this article details an incident between a deaf person and police where the person was shot and killed by police because he could not hear their commands. “Police compliance with [Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)] provisions is pretty poor across the board,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College whose research focuses on community policing. “It’s clearly not a priority for a lot of police leaders.” For the deaf, police compliance with the ADA translates to employing or contracting with qualified American Sign Language interpreters and making available remote interpreting services, among other measures. Id. Few police knew about the ADA, “including the right to an interpreter,” said one of them, Alina Engelman, a health-sciences professor at California State University, East Bay.
Under the ADA and its regulation, local and state law enforcement agencies are required to provide qualified sign language interpreters, and other auxiliary aids, to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. 28 C.F.R. Š35.160. Deference must be given to the deaf or hard of hearing individual’s choice of what auxiliary aid he or she needs. 28 C.F.R. Š28 C.F.R. Š35.160(b)(2).
Wisconsin courts have reviewed situations where a police officer has contact with an arrested person who needs an interpreter. In State v. Begicevic, 270 Wis.2d 675, 678 N.W.2d 293 (2004) despite officer’s knowledge that English was not Begicevic’s first language, she made no attempt to locate an interpreter to assist her and when she read the Informing the Accused form to Begicevic, there was no verbatim translation in German of what was being read nor was there any explanation of rights on the form in German to Begicevic. The appellate court said the issue was not a subjective determination of whether the officer believed Begicevic understood what was being said to him, but rather an objective test of whether the officer used reasonable methods to convey the implied consent warnings.
Perhaps some of this confusion can be avoided if a preprinted card on their car visor is used by deaf drivers. If the police stop a deaf driver, the driver should open their window, open the visor and detach it, and swing it over to the window. That way the card will be right there, in the policeman‘s face. Importantly, the card should NOT be put in the glovebox since a deaf driver leaning over to grab something from the glovebox is sure to be seen as a hostile action by police.
This type of card is available from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services at:https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p02027.pdf
Also, ideas on how a deaf person can interact with police can be found at a video with Marlee Matlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAvewviVwjY