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Police giving deaf drivers cards to help them communicate

June 14, 2018

New York Police Department Sgt. Andrea Cruz holds a card, Wednesday, June 13, 2018, at One Police Plaza in New York, that is being sent during the week to nearly 12,000 deaf and hard of hearing motorists to keep in their cars. Cruz created the card, featuring symbols that drivers and officers can point at, in an effort to improve communication during traffic stops. (AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak)

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department is giving deaf drivers a new tool to improve communication during traffic stops: laminated visor cards with symbols that officers can point at to indicate speeding, running a red light and other common violations.

The police department’s deputy commissioner for collaborative policing, Susan Herman, said Wednesday that the 4-by-11-inch (10-by-28-centimeter) cards are being mailed this week to 11,590 drivers whose licenses show they are deaf or hard of hearing. The cards also will be available for download on the department’s website.

“We wanted to make sure that a situation that could often be stressful goes as smoothly as possible,” Herman said.

Sgt. Andrea Cruz, a department sign language interpreter and hostage negotiator, developed the cards during the last year after seeing versions in use in other cities.

The NYPD’s cards have a space for deaf motorists to indicate how they prefer to communicate, such as through American Sign Language or with pen and paper, and pointers for officers to improve interactions. The pointers include eliminating background noise and avoiding shining flashlights in drivers’ eyes.

The NYPD pledged to improve its treatment of deaf and hard-of-hearing people under a 2009 consent decree.

It has paid nearly $1 million in settlements in recent years to three deaf people who say officers mistreated them. That includes $750,000 to a woman who said she was wrongfully arrested and denied an interpreter.

Attorney Antony Gemmell, who has worked to improve police interactions with deaf and hard-of-hearing people, said the visor cards were a small but important step.

“The broad, general goal here is for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to have equal access to police services,” said Gemmell, of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Whatever they need to be able to communicate effectively should be offered to them.”

Gemmell said a pilot program launched last year to link officers to sign language interpreters via video conferencing appeared to be on hold. Herman said the department is working to add sign language to an interpreting service that’s available around the clock on all officers’ smartphones.

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