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CPD Gets New VRS Equipment To Assist Deafies

VIDEO: Deaf News - Cleveland Police Department gets new video relay service equipment to assist Deaf community.

CLEVELAND, OH -- The Cleveland Police Department has invested in new equipment to help its officers better serve the Deaf community.

The department announced Wednesday that all officers have been trained to use video technology that gives them instant access to an American Sign Language interpreter.

Officials from the police department and local advocates for the hearing-impaired demonstrated the new equipment Thursday.

"The reality is there are barriers in place for some members of our community," Cleveland police Capt. James McPike said. "This grant was intended to try to remove those barriers for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community."

Each of the city's five police districts is stocked with an iPad equipped with the ZVRS video interpreter application. The application gives officers dealing with a Deaf crime victim, suspect or witness access to an interpreter within seconds.

The technology was purchased using a portion of a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women that was awarded to the department in 2011, Cleveland police Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia said.

The Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center and the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center helped train the police force.

Deaf women in the U.S. experience domestic and sexual violence at rates twice those of hearing women, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization that advocates for fairness in the justice system. Yet they often encounter barriers when seeking help, from a phone-based 911 system to having their credibility as witnesses in court questioned.

The police department purchased the equipment after getting feedback from the Deaf community, said Maria O'Neil Ruddock, coordinator of training and outreach services for the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center.

"The reason it's here is because the Deaf community has told us, 'We want access to the police, we want to be able to communicate, but it's difficult,'" O'Neil Ruddock said.

Cleveland is only one of two large police departments in the country using this technology, she added.

The department is also updating its general police orders to include a policy about communicating with the Deaf, McPike said. A draft of that policy is still in the approval stage.

Ciaccia said the interpreting technology is not related to a binding agreement with the Justice Department that requires the Cleveland police to improve the way they interact with citizens. The addition of the technology is the latest in a string of efforts by the department to expand training.

Mayor Frank Jackson announced in December that officers received first aid training and emergency medical kits.

The Cleveland Police Academy class that graduated in October was the first to receive 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

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