Drivers in Nassau County could carry cards identifying themselves as deaf or hearing-impaired to avert communication failures with law enforcement officers during traffic stops, under legislation scheduled for a vote Wednesday.
The bill directs the Nassau County Police Department to publish "visor cards" that officials hope hearing-impaired drivers will keep in their cars and that will be available through DMVs and first responders.
The bill, sponsored by Legis. Joshua Lafazan of Woodbury, who is not affiliated with a political party but caucuses with Democrats, was approved unanimously by legislative committees earlier this month and is scheduled for a vote before the full 19-member legislature Wednesday.
The proposal follows calls nationwide for changes in how law enforcement officers are trained to communicate with the deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Drivers could identify on the card their preferred method of communication, such as American Sign Language or use of pen-and-paper. Law enforcement officers could disclose the reason for the traffic stop by circling symbols for traffic infractions and whether the driver will be arrested or issued a ticket or warning.
“It’s an incredibly difficult and tense interaction between the police officer and the individual who’s deaf or hard-of-hearing," Lafazan said. "It's virtually impossible for that police officer to articulate what they need from that person, and likewise, it’s incredibly difficult for that person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing . . . to communicate back to that officer that they have difficult communicating in the first place."
In a statement, Nassau Police Commissioner of Police Patrick Ryder said the legislation would, "bring awareness, conversation and effective communication with deaf individuals and/or the hearing-impaired . . . Our officers will embrace the ability to communicate positively with hearing-impaired individuals whether they are in need of assistance or the victim of a crime.”
The bill in part is a response to deadly encounters between police and hearing-impaired motorists elsewhere in the nation.
In August 2016, a North Carolina highway patrol trooper fatally shot a deaf driver, Daniel Harris, according to news reports. The officer had attempted to pull over Harris for speeding, which prompted a police chase. Harris eventually exited the vehicle and an encounter took place in which the officer fired his gun, according to published reports.
In September 2017, an Oklahoma City police officer fatally shot Magdiel Sanchez, 35, after urging him to drop a metal pipe, according to news reports. Neighbors nearby had alerted officers that Sanchez was deaf and could not hear instructions, according to police .
Loretta Murray, executive director of Mill Neck Services, a nonprofit that provides services for the deaf, hard-of-hearing and disabled adults and children, said in a statement, "Throughout United States, deaf and hard-of-hearing people experience harrowing situations during routine traffic stops due to miscommunication. Deaf people have died as result of misunderstandings."
She continued, "These are not just helpful tools for deaf and hard of hearing behind the wheel, but will help Nassau County police to keep the public safe."