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Monday, December 11, 2023
Dec. 11, 2023

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DOJ: Vancouver police to improve services for deaf people

By , Columbian staff reporter

The U.S. Department of Justice and Vancouver Police Department reached a settlement Tuesday that requires the police department to improve its services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, after it failed to ensure effective communication with a deaf woman.

The Vancouver resident was denied auxiliary aids and other services during her interview and arrest, according to a Department of Justice news release. In addition to updating its policies, the police department must pay the woman $30,000.

“Law enforcement encounters are some of the most high-stakes and personally significant moments a person can experience. It is critically important that individuals be able to effectively communicate in these moments — both to provide information to the police and to receive information about their rights,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman said in the news release.

“This settlement will help ensure that every person who is deaf or hard of hearing has the ability to effectively communicate, and equal access to services in their encounters with the Vancouver Police Department,” she added.

In a written statement Tuesday, Vancouver Police Assistant Chief Jeff Mori said the department “is committed to providing effective communication to those we serve” and to “improving and modifying our practices to ensure all individuals receive equal access when interacting with VPD.”

Investigators determined Vancouver police officers failed to ensure effective communication with the woman while investigating criminal allegations against her, while informing her of her Miranda rights and during her arrest, the news release states.

The woman said officers had her minor daughter act as an interpreter, which is in violation of her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The woman also said police handcuffed her behind her back, leaving her unable to communicate using American Sign Language or by writing.

Investigators also determined officers failed to provide the alleged victim, who is also deaf, with an interpreter.

“We have fully cooperated with the Department of Justice and will continue to implement the terms of the settlement agreement,” said Mori, who was recently selected to succeed James McElvain as Vancouver police chief.

The police department must provide the U.S. Attorney’s Office with a draft of policy revisions to improve communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing within 60 days. The settlement also requires the department to update its policy on restraining and handcuffing people who are deaf or hard of hearing by having their hands in front of their bodies, the news release states.

The police department is also required to document all requests for communication assistive devices and how the agency met those requests.

“The terms will improve services to our community members by enhancing the tools and training provided to VPD employees. VPD is also making policy updates to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Mori said. “VPD fully supports these improvements. The process of making policy updates and providing additional training for department personnel is already underway.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office will monitor Vancouver police’s compliance with the settlement for two years, and the department is required to submit a report every six months.

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