More than half the hands in the room lifted when Becca Bailey, community engagement liaison for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, asked the dozens of Gilbert police officers and staff if they’ve ever interacted with a deaf person while on the job. She signed her question as another woman interpreted it aloud. 

Most of their encounters were during traffic stops, one of the officers told Bailey. They exchanged handwritten responses to resolve the situation.

Others admitted they weren’t sure how to access a certified and licensed translator if the scope of the conversation needed to extend past paper and pens.

For the first time, the Gilbert Police Department partnered with the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to train officers and staff in how to communicate more effectively and legally with those who can’t hear them. 

“We do have a large community and there’s a great number of deaf individuals,” Gilbert Police Department training Sgt. Bill Campbell said. “We want to make sure our officers are prepared to deal with any eventuality of any citizen’s issues, whether they be ADA-based or not.”

Campbell explained most officers currently default to writing back-and-forth, using a cell phone or a pen and paper, during most interactions. They’re still learning how to best accommodate more challenging situations, such as a deaf child or an individual who is both deaf and blind. The department is learning to embrace tools like video translating services during those situations. 

Bailey explained some of the “cultural differences” officers might encounter. For example, a person who is deaf or hard of hearing may not respond to commands, which an officer could incorrectly interpret as intentionally ignoring. An expression of concentration or intense eye contact while paying attention to an officer could come off as confrontational.

“We’re hoping to understand more about their jobs and they’re wanting to understand more about us,” Bailey said. “That can avoid a lot of situations that could escalate or aggravate a situation. If an officer is able to respond in what’s considered an appropriate way, many unfortunate situations could be avoided.”