Little Rock police officers learn sign language
By MATTHEW MERSHON
Aug. 27, 2018
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — In recent years the Little Rock Police Department has made efforts to hire more Spanish-speaking officers in order to bridge the language barrier with the city's growing Hispanic population. Now there's a group of LRPD officers looking to make communication easier with the city's deaf population.
Lieutenant Tracey Campbell said she couldn't possibly understand how deaf or hard of hearing Little Rock residents must feel during interactions with police when there's a lack of understanding between the two.
"I was working at the Deaf School graduation a couple of months ago, and just like all graduations the kids are so excited to be graduating," said Campbell. "I had a couple of them that were trying to communicate with me afterward and I didn't understand any of it, so there was such a feeling of helplessness on my part."
Campbell's feeling of helplessness would end up spawning a weekly American Sign Language class at the Arkansas School for the Deaf to help ease communication between officers and the hundreds of people in Little Rock who identify as deaf.
"I think this is very important and very needed for people in general to be able to communicate with deaf people," said Eddie Schmeckenbecher, teacher at the Arkansas School for the Deaf.
"The more people we have that know sign language, the better the communication is with those and frustrations won't happen and accidents won't happen - it's just better communication to help make things run smoothly."
"We have everywhere from a captain down to civilian employees and many, many police officers that are learning sign language," said Laura Martin with LRPD.
Nearly 40 uniformed officers along with ten civilian employees have signed up to the take the course, including some of the department's already bilingual officers, KATV-TV reported.
"I speak Spanish and English," said Officer Jonathan Tolentino. "So with this I'm hoping to kind of add to that and be able to help in my community and be able to better communicate with everybody."
ASD officials said because of the LRPD program's success, they hope to replicate the program to offer to other Arkansas law enforcement. The school also offers community ASL classes.
Information from: KATV-TV, http://www.katv.com/