How local authorities interact with the deaf community

Sunday, August 28, 2016
image courtesy WSOC-TV
image courtesy WSOC-TV

The family of a deaf man, who died after being shot by a North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper, is calling for more law enforcement training on engaging with the deaf community.

According to authorities, a state trooper shot 29-year-old Daniel Harris after attempting to pull Harris over for a speeding violation on I-48 in Charlotte. Authorities said Harris led the trooper on a pursuit before stopping, and a shot was fired.

Harris's family has since started an online fundraiser on, to raise money for funeral expenses and to advocate for changes in the way law enforcement interacts with people who are hard of hearing.

"Our family is raising funds to cover his memorial and cremation expenses," the online fundraiser states. "Any monies left over will be used to set up a foundation in his name to educate and provide law enforcement proper training on how to confront Deaf people. Subsequently, we hope to change the DMV registration system by requiring states to set up a "DEAF" alert to appear when law enforcement look up a car's license plate. With this change, Daniel will be a hero in our Deaf community."

RELATED: NC Public safety secretary asks not to make assumptions about shooting of deaf man by trooper

ABC11 reached out to the sheriff's offices of Cumberland, Durham, and Wake counties, as well as the police departments of the city of Durham, Fayetteville, and Raleigh to ask about their policies and practices when it comes to the deaf community. Their responses to our inquiries are listed below.


Q: Does your agency have any rules/protocol for engaging with a deaf person in a traffic stop?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: Yes, we have a 14 page policy dealing with persons that have disabilities.

Fayetteville Police Department: We haven't conducted any training recently regarding deaf subjects, but our officers are continually trained on communication, de-escalation, and crisis intervention. That means, among other things, determining whether a subject understands commands that are being given. That is not nearly as simple as it may seem, especially if the dynamics of the event are rapidly evolving.

Q: Are there any metrics, or signs, your officers look for when verifying whether or not you've engaged the attention of a deaf person?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: Your first sign is the person would not engage with you if they were not looking directly at you, the person couldn't hear you address them. Once they engage the speech pattern may be off if they speak at all. Most people we come in contact with who have a hearing deficit will let you know immediately.

Fayetteville Police Department: No response given

Q: How is this topic addressed in your agency?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: We have yearly training on communicating and dealing with individuals with disabilities. The Sheriff's Office has can provide a qualified sign language and oral interpreter and other auxiliary aids and services free of charge.

Fayetteville Police Department: During BLET Techniques of Traffic Law Enforcement and Patrol Techniques, recruits are made familiar with the various circumstances they may encounter when conducting traffic stops and/or dealing with the public. Those encounters may involve individuals with diabetic emergencies, mental health issues, dementia or other age related illnesses, and deaf individuals. In addition to BLET training, officers during In-Service Training are exposed to various encounters that require crisis intervention and/or de-escalation techniques.

Q: Is this sort of interaction left up to the discretion of the officer?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: Yes, most will use their note pad to jot notes on or use a cell phone talk to text.

Fayetteville Police Department: Officers are expected to make reasonable decisions no matter the dynamics of the encounter. With that, officers are allotted a great deal of discretion.

Q: Has this sort of encounter ever occurred in your agency in the past year?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: I have no idea we do not keep stats on that sort of thing.

Fayetteville Police Department: I currently do not have any information to suggest how many individuals that are hearing impaired; may have been the subject of a traffic stop.

Q: If so how many, and are there any anecdotes you or an officer with your department could share on this?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: No response given.

Fayetteville Police Department: No response given.

Q: Is there specific guidance in the department for dealing with folks who are disabled in some sort or another?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: The guidance is to always be compassionate, and understanding of a person's disability. With that being said, officers are expected to maintain a sense of safety when dealing with all populations.

Fayetteville Police Department: No response given.

Q: Is there anything on this subject that you would like to share and express?

Cumberland County Sheriff's Office: The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office is committed to providing equal access to all persons with disabilities.

Fayetteville Police Department: No response given.


The Durham County Sheriff's Office has a specific policy on interacting with people who are hard of hearing and sent a copy of the policy to us along with the following response:

"It's been on our books for several years, and during that time we've have no record of an incident involving a hearing impaired citizen. We have hundreds of general orders that are constantly under review and revision. Our deputies are briefed and trained throughout the year on all agency policies."

Check out the Durham County Sheriff's Office policy here

The Durham Police Department said addressing practices for engaging with the deaf community is something they're looking into now, and sent the following statement:

"We do not have any general orders or training addressing this specific issue at this time. We are discussing the possibility of providing training for officers on this topic."


The Wake County Sheriff's Office did not return our inquiries.

The Raleigh Police Department returned our inquires with the statement below and included a copy of their policy for providing interpreters for those who are hard of hearing.

"As part of the state's basic law enforcement training curriculum, the Raleigh Police Academy provides a block of instruction that concerns dealing with victims and the public. That block includes information about interactions with people who have hearing and sight impairments, as well as those who have autism or who speak a foreign language. The instruction concerning hearing impairments includes information about indicators that may be noticed, such as pointing at the ears, making hand motions to indicate they wish to communicate in writing or speaking with a flatter-than-normal tone of voice.

The RPD has a policy concerning interpreters for the hearing impaired, and I've attached it for your information and reference. On the occasions in which it's needed, sign-language interpretation usually comes into play during the follow-up stages investigations.

Contacts with those who have impairments is not something that's tracked statistically, so I do not have information about the number of those encounters we have."

Read the Raleigh Police Department's policy on providing interpreters here.

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