VPD takes ‘Coffee with the Cops’ to Vallejo Deaf Church
By Richard Freedman, Times-Herald
Original article HERE
Sgt. Brent Garrick says he’s driven past the 1600 block of Broadway Street for years without noticing the Vallejo Deaf Church.
“Thousands of times and I never took notice,” Garrick said. “I was almost embarrassed to find out we have a church for the deaf.”
Admittedly blind to the building, Garrick said the Vallejo Police Department as an agency has been equally short-sighted to the complaints, concerns and needs of this silent community.
Garrick said Sunday’s two-hour “Coffee with the Cops” at the 20-year church will help prevent further concerns from the hearing impaired from falling on deaf ears.
Facing about 15 church members, Garrick, Capt. Lee Horton, and Lt. Jason Potts responded to questions translated verbally by four hired translators and VPD employee Angela Knight.
Several church members complained about 911 response time. Some questioned the sensitivity of officers in dealing with the deaf. Associate Pastor Olivia Bibb had concerns about the homeless in the area.
It was, said Garrick afterward, an educational experience.
“We have a lot to learn from the (deaf) community,” he said. “We’re certainly going to take advantage of that after today. I thought it would be a unique experience and I think it was.”
The deaf, Garrick emphasized, “are part of the community and need to be recognized as such as vital members of our community.”
Bibb was equally hopeful, though somewhat apprehensive after the VPD paid its last visit two years ago with apparently little coming out of that gathering.
“It (Sunday’s meeting) was helpful because we can see face-to-face with the police and be able to express our feelings and concerns,” Bibb said, with signer Nanette Dodzie translating.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating because they don’t understand the culture or sign language,” Bibb continued. “It was good to be able to express ourselves and feel like we’re being heard and we appreciate it.”
The VPD, she continued, “needs to become more sensitive. Training that they’re talking about would be helpful. This was very valuable, that they came to see us.”
The No. 1 problem Bibb sees with the deaf community and law enforcement is “miscommunication,” mostly during 911 calls because of the video relay system in place.
“The response time is too slow,” she said.
Also, “being more sensitive to the deaf culture,” should be a priority, Bibb noted, believing even minimum ability to finger spell and use basic American Sign Language (ASL) would be positive and that the police “should put that on their agenda.”
Though she wouldn’t demand officers learn ASL, “I think it would be good,” Bibb said, adding that she’ll “make sure they follow through” on promises.
The police “need to show by actions, not just by talking,” Bibb said.
Bibb said the Vallejo Deaf Church has 75 members, including children, and said there are around 3,000 to 4,000 deaf people living in Vallejo.
One deaf church member explained his negative exchanges with local law enforcement.
In one situation, he was driving with a headset on, listening to music at ultra-high volume so he could “hear” the vibration. Seeing a police officer’s flashing lights in his rear-view mirror, he pulled over.
Then he had to convince the cop he was only able to hear the music’s vibration.
“I gestured I was deaf and the officer thought I was lying,” the man said via a signer.
Another church member complained about lack of communication with an officer following a minor accident.
“I’m sorry for your experience,” Horton said. “We don’t have encounters with the deaf community that often, but that’s not an excuse.”
Potts also apologized on behalf the officers, saying “we’ll do better.”
Horton said officers trained in communicating with the deaf “is a good idea” so incidents such as the ones above “don’t happen again.”
Some states — including Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — offer license plates that include the international sign for the hearing impaired. California isn’t one of them, Garrick said, believing “it might be a good idea.”
Sunday’s “Coffee with the Cops” is a way of “reaching every corner of our community,” Garrick said. “They (the deaf) have questions about our services just like the general public.”