Interacting with police or law enforcement can be difficult for everyone, but if you are hearing impaired, difficulties communicating with police can lead to beatings, wrongful arrests, or become life threatening.
A tragic example of this is the recent shooting of Daniel Kevin Harris. On August 18, 2016, the unarmed man was shot by a North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper in Northeast Charlotte. The 29-year-old was hearing and speech impaired, and this was factor in his death. When the Patrol Trooper attempted to pull over his car for a speeding violation, Harris didn’t stop. Law enforcement chased the car for seven miles before Harris stopped. When he got out of the vehicle, it is believed that his hearing impairment
contributed to further miscommunication, and he was fatally shot.
Law enforcement are trained to respond quickly in stressful situations, where they have to make decisions based on limited information. The best way to help yourself is to help them. Hearing loss is an invisible disability, so make sure the officers know you are hearing impaired. Most negative police interactions happen because the officer involved didn’t realize the person was hard of hearing.
If you’re flagged down at a road stop, pull over as quickly as possible so the officers know you have seen them and are following instructions. To keep yourself safe, be prepared. Carry a card in your car or wallet that says you are hard of hearing. Keep both hands on the wheel until the officer indicates you may reach for your paperwork. Show your hard of hearing information to the officer at the beginning of your interaction, so he or she can make good decisions. Carrying paper and a pen is always a good idea for fewer misunderstandings.
Do not touch a police officer. When hard of hearing, people often use touch or a hand on the shoulder to help communicate. The officer might see this as a threat and take action. Remain calm and let the officer know you’re having trouble hearing them. Before you drive away, ask the officer if you can go. They might be expecting you to stay, and leaving without permission can lead to further miscommunication or violence.
Knowing your rights will keep you safe when you interact with the police. Police officers are required to have training in communicating in all situations, but it’s up to you to know your rights and act on them. Advocating for your rights and raising awareness are the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf). Actress Marlee Matlin, who is also deaf and the wife of a police officer, has some helpful reminders of how to stay safe and exercise your rights. ( watch the video here
As a hard of hearing individual, it is your right to have access to an assistive listening device, real time captioning, or an ASL translator. As soon as an interaction with law enforcement begins, make sure they understand your hearing loss, and request the assistance you need. Keep asking until you get it. The police are here to protect you, not to make you feel uncomfortable.
Police are allowed to search your person, but cannot search your car or home without your permission. You can say no to a search. With hearing loss, sometimes you feel confused and don’t know exactly what has been said. If requested to sign any documents, make sure you read it carefully, and have a very clear understanding of what’s in the document. If you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney, and don’t have to answer any questions without legal guidance.
Have your rights been violated? Speak out about it! Be sure to write down all the details you can remember, such as the officer’s name, badge number, and the details of what happened. You can file a complaint to address the issue. Your local ACLU chapter would also love to hear from you, and they will help you advocate for your rights.
Are you hard of hearing? Don’t let this lead to miscommunications with family, friends, or law enforcement. Visit us today at Puget Sound Hearing Aids and Audiology to explore hearing aid options and stay safe.