Tulsa Police Work To Improve Communication With Deaf Community

Tuesday, October 14th 2014, 11:25 pm

A town hall meeting Tuesday night focused on taking the fear out of a scary situation.

Neither police nor citizens know exactly what to expect when someone's pulled over, but that anxiety is compounded when a driver is deaf or hard of hearing.

The issue came into stark focus after a deaf man was shot and killed last month in Florida, when he didn't respond to deputies telling him to drop his gun.

While Florida may seem far from here, it hits close to home for the deaf and hard of hearing in Oklahoma.

A traffic stop is a situation no one ever wants to be in, but it happens.

A reenactment shows a traffic stop from an officer's perspective, but also gives the driver's point of view. In this case, the man behind to wheel is deaf.

It's a situation Papa Rodgers Cameron said he knows all-too-well.

“I get stopped a lot. I travel an awful lot on a motorcycle,” he said.

Cameron speaks well, but he can't hear.

“I'm very, very, difficult to communicate with,” he said.

Communication was the focus of a town hall meeting for the deaf and hard of hearing Tuesday night; whether it's during a traffic stop, fire or 911 call.

Not all deaf people speak or read lips, but almost all communicate with their hands.

10/14/2014 Related Story: Traffic Stops For Hearing Impaired Drivers: Practical Tips For Public Safety

Police say everyone, whether they can hear or not, should put their hands on the steering wheel when being stopped.

“When a policeman approaches me I be sure my hands are up where he sees them, OK. I do not make any movement, have my window down and my dome light on and my hands are out, OK I'm harmless,” Cameron said. “I do not want him firing a warning shot in my leg, I don't want beat up either, I don't want none of that.”

Being pulled over is nerve-wracking for anyone, even the officers.

“Every traffic stop is different. It's the unknown. It's like going in a dark house and not knowing who's behind the door. That's really what a traffic stop is,” said Tulsa Police Officer, Leland Ashley.

Getting in touch with 911 was another hot topic.

Right now in the Tulsa area the only way for a deaf or hard of hearing person to reach 911 is by using what many consider an out-of-date relay system.

The people at Tuesday's meeting expressed their hope for one day being able to text in an emergency to 911.