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Peace Officer Training and the Deaf:

An examination of the current status of peace officer training in the area of Deaf culture and police/deaf contacts.  Part 1 of an evaluation and recommendation. Part two covers specific recommendations for changes to the current program.

David Birozy
November 17, 2007

Peace Officer Training and the Deaf Community



The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST; herein referred to as the Commission) is tasked with a number of different responsibilities related to, inter alia, peace officer selection, training, development of minimum standards for hiring, and training.[1] [2]   In addition, the Commission is statutorily mandated to conduct research concerning job-related educational standards for law enforcement officers in California.[3]


One of the tasks that falls under the direction of the Commission is the development of minimum standards (including training standards) for the 39 approved basic police academies in California.  The Commission has established a minimum of 664 hours of training in the Regular Basic Course (the "police academy" for most classifications of full time peace officers).  These hours are allocated to 41 individual topics.  Each individual topic is referred to as a "Learning Domain."  Each Learning Domain is identified by a sequential number.[4]


For example, Learning Domain 3 is "Policing in the Community."  Learning Domain 6 is "Property Crimes."  Learning Domain 16 covers "Search and Seizure.  Each Learning Domain has set Training Specifications which identify the Learning Need, Learning Objectives, and required testing.[5]


Learning Domain 37 covers "Persons with Disabilities."  The Basic Course Workbook Series for Learning Domain 37 is broken down into the following chapters:


  • Chapter 1 -- Disability Laws
  • Chapter 2 -- Developmental Disabilities
  • Chapter 3 -- Physical Disabilities
  • Chapter 4 -- Mental Illness


"Deafness and Hearing Impairments" is found within Chapter 3 of Learning Domain 37.[6]  The purpose behind the Learning Need for Chapter 3 (Physical Disabilities) is:  "In order to make appropriate decisions and serve those with physical disabilities, peace officers must be able to recognize indicators of people affected by physical disabilities."[7]


The Learning Objectives for Chapter 3 -- Physical Disabilities, and in particular, to "Deafness and Hearing Impaired" include:


  • "Recognize behavioral or other indicators that may lead an officer to identify a person as being deaf or hearing impaired."[8]
  • Recognize appropriate peace officer actions during field contacts with people who are deaf of hearing impaired."[9]
  • "Identify methods an officer can use to communicate with a person who is deaf or hearing impaired."[10]
  • Discuss additional laws that protect the rights of people with physical disabilities ."[11]


The Commission requires these objectives be met for both the Regular Basic Course and the Specialized Investigators Basic Course.[12]


The objectives are covered in the Workbook.  The Introduction is the first experience a new officer in the academy comes into contact with:


Introduction The term deafness means a substantial or complete loss of hearing. Deafness and hearing impairments affect all levels of society regardless of age, race, education level, or occupation. The ability to rapidly identify and properly treat people who are deaf or hearing impaired will enhance officers' abilities to accomplish their duties in a professional manner.


People who are deaf or hearing impaired often are concerned or even fearful about contacts with peace officers. They may be concerned that they will be misunderstood by officers and perhaps be:


arrested or shot for not responding to an officer's commands.

mistaken for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

perceived as uncooperative or disrespectful.

appear to be anxious or confused because of an inability to communicate.[13]


As the new officer flips through the pages of the LD 37 workbook, he/she encounters the following information, most of which is a single paragraph.


  • Indicators such as the use of signing, pointing to an ear and shaking head, reaching for a pad and pencil, etc.[14]
  • Field contact issues such as identifying the person as deaf or hearing impaired, the importance of the first encounter, etc.[15]
  • Communication such as trying to speak[16]
  • Communication methods, and the emphasis on an officers' first task being the recognition that the person is deaf or hearing impaired.[17]
  • Written communication such as writing.[18]
  • Lip reading[19]
  • Hearing aids[20]
  • Partial hearing[21]
  • Sign translators[22]
  • TTY/TDD[23]
  • California Relay Service[24]
  • Additional communication recommendations such as how to get the persons attention, maintaining eye contact, use of nonverbal methods, use of clear and concise words, using standard hand signals.[25]
  • Officer safety[26]
  • Agency policy[27]


In summary, the Basic Course Workbook Series makes a cursory attempt to teach a bit about deaf culture and interaction, however it is lacking much in trying to improve communications.  Conversely, one must balance the need to teach varied communication skills versus the transient and perishable nature of such education.  In other words, unless the skill is used, it will be lost.


The Commission certifies post-academy ("in-service," or "Advanced Officer Training) instruction.  There are currently two 3-day courses in "Sign Language for Emergency Personnel.  One is hosted by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, and the Southwest Regional Occupational Program in Cerritos.  Information about the course follows.[28]







P. O. BOX 1456
(909) 473-2695
Course Listing




Future Presentations

Past Presentations

Total Authorized: 6




Course Listing








Other education opportunities are typically self-taught.  Examples of other education opportunities include college courses, on-line courses (e.g. Lifeprint); books and computer programs, and other multimedia.


Provided an individual officer desires to seek additional training on his/her own, the only training he/she will receive is a few hours in the basic police academy.


There are a number of ways a law enforcement organization can increase the knowledge and experience of its personal.


This will be explored in depth in the ASL 2 paper.


[2] California Penal Code 13510(a)

[3] California Penal Code 13510(b)

[6] California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (2006).  Basic Course Workbook Series, Student Materials.  Learning Domain 37, Persons with Disabilities, (Version 4).  Sacramento, California:  POST

[7] Id.

[8] POST LD 37 Basic Course Workbook Series Student Materials at 3-2

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (2006).  Training and Testing Specifications for Learning Domain #37, People with Disabilities.  Sacramento, California: POST.  Available on line at:

[13] POST LD 37 at 3-15

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. at 3-16

[17] Id. at 3-17

[18] Id.

[19] Id. at 3-18

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id. at 3-19

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id. at 3-20

[26] Id. at 3-21

[27] Id.

[28] California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.  Course Catalog.  Sacramento, CA:  POST.  Available on-line at:



Peace Officer Training and the Deaf  (Part II)


David Birozy



This term paper for American Sign Language 2 (California State University, Sacramento, College of Continuing Education[1], in partnership with ASL University[2]) has been designed as a two-part series, spanning both ASL 1 and ASL 2.

 In part one of this term paper, I examined the current state of police training in Deaf culture and/or police/deaf interaction.[3]  To summarize, the current state is dismal at best. 

 I will start by first identifying some of the key components to building an effective training class, and then proposing a training program.  One caveat though.  This paper is not designed to be a treatise on teaching styles, putting together classes from scratch, etc.  Simply due to the length and scope of this paper, my comments are cursory, and are provided in order to allow the reader to understand why I have put forth my suggested course.

 Mr. Gordon Graham[4] is a well-known and well-respected expert in the public safety field in the area of risk management.  Mr. Graham identifies five "pillars" for successful risk management.  One of the five pillars is dedicated to training.  It is from this pillar we will launch into a suggested model for police training in police/deaf interaction and Deaf culture.

 For effective training, Mr. Graham utilizes the acronym "SROVT,"[5] or Solid, Realistic, Ongoing Verifiable Training."  While a detailed discussion of each of these points goes beyond the scope of this paper, Mr. Graham's SROVT will set the framework for my suggestion for the training course I present.  As such, a brief overview is in order. 

 First, training must be solid and realistic.  That is, does the trainee really know how to accomplish the task?[6]  I will put it in other words.  I could propose to develop a small tri-fold card with some common ASL signs on them and perhaps a paragraph or two about deaf culture to be provided to each police department for distribution to their officers.  However, according to the SROVT model, this really does not accomplish much (if anything) in the form of effective training.  We would be fortunate if 5% of the cops even carried the card with them.  I'd estimate more than 99% would resort to "pen and paper" communication before even thinking about pulling out such a card.

However, I think resorting to "pen and paper" in such a situation would be a much better idea than pulling out a card anyway.  Why?  Because you cannot pull a pocket card out and try to communicate from it.  Even if you could express a word or two, what are the chances you could understand the response, short of a head nod or other easily identifiable gesture?  This leads to my second point.

 It is well known that language skills are perishable - If you don't use them, you lose them.[7] [8] [9].  Hence the "Ongoing" component of SVORT.  After beginning with solid and realistic training to develop and build the students knowledge up to an acceptable level, there needs to be follow-up consisting of ongoing training.[10]  Otherwise, the material is quickly forgotten. 

 Finally, training needs to be verifiable.  There needs to be some way to measure the students' knowledge of the information.  The absolute worst time to find out somebody has not learned the information is during a critical incident.  Verifiable in many contexts means some manner of testing on the material.

 Because of these SVORT issues, I am outright rejecting the notion of trying to develop a 30 minute briefing training, or even a one to three day training class in this area.  I believe such classes will impart some knowledge -- which will be forgotten within several weeks.  That is certainly not the goal I am looking for.

 I believe that in order to achieve solid and realistic training, we need to embrace problem-based (adult based) learning.  There are far too many studies that show retention rates are directly proportional to the manner (e.g. passive versus active) and method (e.g. reading, listening, seeing, hearing and seeing, participating, presenting) in which we learn.  Much of this information is based upon the Cone of Learning developed by Edgar Dale, who proposes that the more active the learner is, the higher the retention.[11]  Therefore, a well designed learning program will require the student to be actively involved.  Once we are at the higher end of Dale's Cone, we will need to look to Benjamin Bloom and his Learning Domains or Taxonomy. 

According to Bloom, effective learning needs to involve three domains of educational activities -- cognitive, affective and psychomotor.[12]  While I've overly simplified this next point, problem-based learning incorporates Bloom and Dale into an effective learning system. 

 The Police Society for Problem-based Learning (PSPBL)[13], in conjunction with the US Department of Justice has recently published the "Police Blueprint for the 21st Century."  The publication can be downloaded from the PSPBL site.   While the publication is primarily about a full length training program for new officers out of the academy, the background, the material presented is still well written and worth reading for a comprehensive understanding of the items I have touched upon herein related to problem-based learning.

 Next, I'll turn to program development.  To start, as I mentioned in the introduction I do not believe a quick one-time approach to teaching this material will be successful.  In my own experience, I have seen quick 30 minute briefing presentations both be successful, and be failures.  One of the key distinctions between success and failure comes down to what the desired retention outcome is.  If the training is from an outside group advising officers of their service and providing contact information (i.e. a new domestic violence shelter, new social program, reminder of existing services, etc.), the training is usually successful.  If however, the training is an attempt to teach a new skill without any additional follow-up (i.e. how to mix and pour a plaster cast in order to recover something of evidentiary value), the training is a failure.  Why does it fail?  Because the information is quickly forgotten.  Perhaps the training was so condensed it wasn't Solid and Realistic enough at the outset; and certainly the "Ongoing" component of SRVORT" is non-existent.  Therefore, any program designed to meet out goals will need to be considerably more in depth.

 Thus another caveat.  I am not proposing an "easy" training class.  Far, far too many training courses are "easy."  You show up, tune out, and get your certificate at the end of the day/week.  Perhaps you picked up a couple of good points, but you certainly didn't get what was paid for, and what you received is miniscule compared to the time invested.

 What I am proposing is a difficult program -- one designed for the serious student who wants to obtain and keep some degree of proficiency in ASL.  My hope would be that with the help of deaf advocacy groups, such as the Orange County Deaf Equal Access Foundation (OCDEAF) in my home town[14] bringing political pressure to local municipalities and counties, we could peak the interest of at least one person from each agency. 

 In addition to having the knowledge and understanding to work with the deaf community to entice personnel to attend the proposed course, there are other rewards.  For example, many organizations offer pay incentives for their employees who are bilingual.  It would be my hope that the completion of this proposed program would allow these personnel to be compensated by their agencies in this manner.  In addition, the course would be POST certified (see part I of this paper), providing reimbursement for costs to local agencies and meeting minimum training hours.  If we could be fortunate enough, we could develop an alliance with a local college or university to offer college credits for the program through their Language Departments.

 My proposed training program would be similar to the Los Angeles Police Department's Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program.[15]  While every officer is taught the basics of identifying the signs and symptoms of being under the influence of illegal substances in the academy, the (DRE) program provides a rigorous 80 hour class, complete with a high requirement for proficiency, significant practice, required demonstrated skills, confirmation of their evaluation by toxicology tests, etc.  After the academic portion ends, there is a requirement for continuing education and development during a certification phase before one is certified as a Drug Recognition Expert.  Recertification is required, as is continuing education training.  Similarly, each police academy trainee receives some classroom training in dealing with "persons with disabilities[16].  As with the DRE program, my plan would be to significantly expand the education.  One should note that both the DRE program above, and my program below, draw significantly from the learning themes presented at the beginning of this paper.

 I propose an 80 hour intensive immersion program.  Prior to the course, the student would be required to go through the first 20 lessons of the Lifeprint curriculum,[17] with a suggestion the student complete the first 40 lessons if possible.

 This 80 hour course would be broken up into two 40 hour segments, with four weeks between the sessions. 

 The two course segments would be similar to the California State University, Sacramento ASL immersion program.  They would not only focus on the expansion of grammar and vocabulary skills, but build upon these core competencies through ongoing conversation, adult based learning activities, immersion in the Deaf culture, attending deaf events, and so forth.  In other words, the course curriculum would not be all classroom work, but would focus significantly more on the development of experience through practical application.

 During the intersession, the student would be required to attend local deaf events in or near his/her community as not only a way to learn, but as a method of community policing.  The student will be able to make contacts in the deaf community within his/her jurisdiction.  Further intersession work would require the student to continue to learn from either assigned class materials, web-based "lectures," websites such as Lifeprint, etc.  ASL educational reading would be assigned (e.g. Teach Yourself American Sign Language[18], Barron's American Sign Language the Easy Way[19] or the multimedia Getting Started in Signing[20], as examples from this author's library).

 After the conclusion of the course, the student would be required to maintain proficiency for one year.  This would include the required logging of a minimum of 4 hours a month using or studying ASL in some manner.  At least one hour of this time must be interactive/conversational.  Quarterly, the student would be required to take an expressive and receptive examination, submitted along with their on-going training log.  While I would love to extend this beyond one year, even the one year mark is a stretch. 

Of course, funding such a program becomes an issue.  I would suggest the first stop would be an application to the US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services for grant funding for such a program.[21]  A number of other grant funding possibilities may exist as well.

 In conclusion, through two papers spanning ASL 1 and ASL 2, we have looked at the basic training all peace officers receive the state of California in regards to "persons with disabilities."  We have come to the conclusion that it is too brief and basic to be of any practical use.  We then looked at components of effective training programs.  Once an understanding of an effective training program was developed, we rejected the typical concept of either a briefing training, or one to three day course due to their inability to provide any lasting and useful knowledge (e.g. higher learning under Bloom's Taxonomy or Dale's Cone of Learning).  Thus, a proposal for an aggressive, intensive educational program was developed in order to target smaller number of officers to develop a degree of expertise. 



[2], accessed April 10, 2008

[3] The first part of this term paper is posted on-line at:, accessed April 16, 2008

[5] Graham, G. (2005) American Law Enforcement 2005.  Handout.  Available from Graham Research Consultants.  See footnote 4.

[6] Id at 22

[10] Graham at 22

[11] Dale, E. (1969). Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching (3rd Edition). The Dryden Press.

[12] For additional information and a visual guide, see




[16] See Part 1 of this paper for a discussion of Learning Domain 37 (Persons with Disabilities) of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training Basic Course Workbook series.


[18] Suggs, T.(2003). Teach Yourself American Sign Lanaguage in 24 Hours. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha

[19] Stewart, D., Stewart, E., Little, J.(2007). American Sign Language the Easy Way, Hauppauge, New York: Barrons

[20] Costello, E. (2000). Getting Started in Signing, A Complete Visual Course in American Sign Language. New York, New York: Living Language



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