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How to Interact with Law Enforcement

In this day and age, police and citizen contact has been under intense scrutiny. With many reported altercations taking place when a citizen is pulled over, there has been a growing concern within the Deaf community over police interaction with Deaf individuals.

What officers might describe as “failure to respond to verbal commands, aggressive hand signaling or resisting arrest,” could simply be a communication breakdown.

To help with communication barriers, several states have issued deaf and hard of hearing driver’s cards. For example, in Michigan, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) issues cards to drivers with various pictures on them.


The officer or driver can point to pictures to ask questions, or explain the reason they’re being pulled over. You can contact MDCR and request a card be mailed to you, or simply go on their website and print one off yourself.

Another individual has created a “Pullover pal, a product you can hang over your car window for an approaching officer to see.


The pullover pal holds all your important information such as your license, registration, and proof of insurance. It also alerts the officer you are deaf or hard of hearing.

We contacted our local police department to find out more tips on how to interact with police officers and to get their opinion on these communication tools.


My name is Barron Brown, I am the community engagement officer with the city of Ferndale. I’ve been a police officer here in Ferndale for 22 years. And actually, I’ve worked for the city since ‘87,


You know, police officers train to watch people's’ hands. Um in almost every instance, when somebody attacks a police officer, they have to use their hands. Especially when they’re sitting in a car. Police officers when they approach a vehicle, are always gonna be looking for where the occupant’s hands are. And, are they being kept still? A lot of movement in a car is a danger sign...CAN be a danger sign for us. It raises our danger meter. I’m not saying you should have your hands UP or anything like that, but you should definitely have your hands on the steering wheel, possibly even folded in your lap. Don’t be moving around and grabbing things, wait for the officer to make requests before you start moving.


I’m amazed that we finally have a product like this that is easily understood, conveys a very deep message, with just a few finger points. I think what a police, what most police officers would, would prefer is if you had it in a readily accessible location, where when you see the officer get behind you, and you, [heavy sigh] have that feeling that you’re gonna get stopped, that you can grab it and just hold it in your hand, and that way when the officer comes up to you, you can, maybe, be holding it, and he can, he or she can see right away that you’re Deaf or Hard of Hearing. What I would prefer as a police officer is point at the glove box, point at the center console, so that I know where you’re gonna go, and then grab that.


I’m Deaf. I’m going to reach over here are grab this card, okay?


We train to deal with all kinds of uh, groups of citizens. You know maybe it is, we are going through kind of a departmental revolution in our policies and procedures and training, and, as we talked about this a little bit, it might be a good opportunity to um, have a little training. And. And. Make our officers aware of the fact that these are out there and what they mean and how easy they are to use.And the training we do get is limited to you know just be aware of what’s going on. Give people a second to try and explain why they aren’t following your directions or why they can’t follow your directions.  


If you are taking your time and you’re in a situation where you CAN take your time, most police citizen contacts, we ARE in a position where we can take our time. The officer should be allowing that communication to take place and picking up on the fact that well maybe this person isn’t responding to me because they’re Deaf or Hard of Hearing you know. We’re very comfortable looking inward at the agency and trying to see what we can do better, and then attacking those issues and like I said this is a good opportunity to maybe take a look at this and see if it’s not something we need to deliver to every single officer.


The Pullover Pal I think a good thing to keep in here is the normal paperwork that an officer would ask for. Proof of insurance, registration, I wouldn’t keep your license in here. I wouldn’t keep a CPL in here. I’d be careful about keeping things with personal information, you know like never keep your title in your car. Just keep the basics, and even maybe handwrite a card, or type out a card that says if you’re not gonna keep your proof of insurance or registration in here, just a short, “my proof of insurance or registration are in my glove box. When you request me to get those items, I’ll get those items.” Something that, that telegraphs a movement so that the officer can, you know, carry on with this traffic stop like they do 99 out of 100 traffic stops. That’s where we both drive away, you not as happy as you were maybe, but at least still smiling, and the officer smiling as well.


Thank you to Sargent Barron Brown for taking the time to chat with us. If you get pulled over, remember to remain in the car, always keep your hands visible, and if you need to reach for something, be sure to let the officer know.


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