ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers

The following ADA guidelines are for law enforcement officers, such as those who police San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and Los Angeles counties. They come from the Department of Justice in an effort to improve communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people who are deaf or hard of hearing are entitled to the same services law enforcement provides to anyone else. They may not be excluded or segregated from services, be denied services, or otherwise be treated differently than other people. Law enforcement agencies must make efforts to ensure that their personnel communicate effectively with people whose disability affects hearing. This applies to both sworn and civilian personnel.

ADA Requirements or Effective Communication

  • Law enforcement agencies must provide the communication aids and services needed to communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, except when a particular aid or service would result in an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.
  • Agencies must give primary consideration to providing the aid or service requested by the person with the hearing disability.
  • Agencies cannot charge the person for the communication aids or services provided.
  • When interpreters are needed, agencies must provide interpreters who can interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially.
  • Only the head of the agency or his or her designee can make the determination that a particular aid or service would cause an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.
San Diego Sign Language Interpreter

What Situations Require an Interpreter?

Generally, interpreter services are not required for simple transactions — such as checking a license or giving directions to a location — or for urgent situations — such as responding to a violent crime in progress.

Example: An officer clocks a car on the highway going 15 miles per hour above the speed limit. The driver, who is deaf, is pulled over and is issued a noncriminal citation. The individual is able to understand the reason for the citation because the officer points out relevant information printed on the citation or written by the officer.

Example: An officer responds to an aggravated battery call and upon arriving at the scene observes a bleeding victim and an individual holding a weapon. Eyewitnesses observed the individual strike the victim. The individual with the weapon is deaf. Because the officer has probable cause to make a felony arrest without an interrogation, an interpreter is not necessary to carry out the arrest.

However, an interpreter may be needed in lengthy or complex transactions — such as interviewing a victim, witness, suspect, or arrestee — if the person being interviewed normally relies on sign language or speech reading to understand what others are saying.

Example: An officer responds to the scene of a domestic disturbance. The husband says the wife has been beating their children and he has been trying to restrain her. The wife is deaf. The officer begins questioning her by writing notes, but her response indicates a lack of comprehension. She requests a sign language interpreter.

In this situation an interpreter should be called. If the woman's behavior is threatening, the officer can make an arrest and call for an interpreter to be available later at the booking station. It is inappropriate to ask a family member or companion to interpret in a situation like this because emotional ties may interfere with the ability to interpret impartially.

Example: An officer responds to the scene of a car accident where a man has been seriously injured. The man is conscious, but is unable to comprehend the officer's questions because he is deaf. A family member who is present begins interpreting what the officer is saying.

A family member or companion may be used to interpret in a case like this, where the parties are willing, the need for information is urgent, and the questions are basic and uncomplicated. However, in general, do not expect or demand that a deaf person provide his or her own interpreter. As a rule, when interpreter service is needed, it must be provided by the agency.

About Interpret San Diego

With a strong understanding of Deaf culture, Interpret San Diego, a business of San Diego ASL Interpreting, LLC, offers American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). We offer certified, local ASL interpreters in any setting, specializing in large events and conferences. With our cloud-based, on-demand VRI technology, our interpreters can be reached from anywhere in the country and we are proud to be the ONLY agency in San Diego that employs 100% of its ASL interpreters. Interpret San Diego is a certified Small Business by the State of California (#1754242)and a certified Small Local Business Enterprise by the City of San Diego (#14IS1244).