Policing a school for the deaf and blind has its challenges. Police Chief Jerry Chandlee, 45, of The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, walked into the department’s conference room last week during a tour of the department. He pointed out four cameras in the room, where interviews are conducted for criminal investigations. When a deaf person is being interviewed, at least one certified interpreter is required to be part of the process. The cameras track the conversation and the sign language. “We make sure that we are capturing all of the interpretation,” Chandlee said.
FSDB’s police department meets the needs of the hundreds of students who attend the school’s 80-acre campus. While officers find unique challenges on campus, they are able to build rapport with students and keep them safe. They also learn what not to do.
During field training, Officer David Moore, 31, of Flagler County, learned a big tip for communicating with students who are deaf or hard of hearing: Whenever possible, do not use a pen and paper to communicate. “Worst case scenario, I can go to pen and paper,” he said. “But I don’t like to do that.” Students who are deaf might get frustrated if an officer hands them a pen or paper, Chandlee said. They are, after all, at a school tailored for deaf and blind students. Officers are encouraged to achieve intermediate skills in American Sign Language by their fourth year with the department, Chandlee said.
Catherine Arasi, director of Interpreting Services for FSDB, said there are eight certified interpreters on staff at the campus. Interpreters are there during criminal investigations to assist police. A team of two interpreters is preferred to ensure accuracy, and because the process can be exhausting. “It’s very rewarding in some situations, but it also can be pretty intense,” Arasi said about interpreting. “It can be very intense and very emotional.”
The police department employs a chief, a lieutenant, eight other sworn officers and 10 support staff members. In 2013, Officer Kelly Thomas was awarded the School Resource Officer of the Year award at the Florida Association of School Resource Officers conference. The Office of the Attorney General of Florida created the award.
Moore has been an FSDB campus officer since 2012, and has picked up some basic sign language skills, he said. Using sign language whenever he can helps him build rapport with students. Another way he builds relationships is by showing interest in what the students are doing. He goes to sporting events on campus such as goal ball. Goalball is a team game for the blind or visually impaired. Players try to hurl a ball about the size of a basketball with bells inside into the other team’s net. Defenders try to hear the ball coming and block it from the goal. Moore goes to the games because he wants the students to know he cares, and that he is there for them. “It means the world to some of these kids,” he said of his interest in them. Fostering relationships with students is important, Moore said, because students learn to be comfortable with him and confide in him if they need to.
The school cares for children as young as 3 years old and offers continuing education for people up to 22, Chandlee said. The students all have some form of infirmity, and determining whether or not a child should be charged with a crime is one of the biggest challenges. The goal is to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the child. “They may not even (know) that it’s against the law,” he said.
Chandlee has been leading the department for several years and said that there are new things coming. Officers hope to be able to use a civil citation program — an alternative to prosecution — beginning this year. Juvenile Civil Citation Coordinator is one of Moore’s duties. He also is a field training officer, the evidence and property room custodian and follow-up investigator, and he is assigned to the Jacksonville Regional Child Abduction Response Team. He also teaches courses to students such as internet safety. In addition, he patrols campus and watches students, and he makes sure the blind don’t get lost on campus. Moore came to FSDB after spending time as a police officer and several years as a Flagler County deputy on road patrol. While on the road, he dealt with stabbings, domestic violence and other situations where people were at their lowest points in life. He was ready for a change. “I get to see the positive side. Here I get to see the kids smile,” he said.
Moore said his role for students is not only protector, but also mentor and counselor. One of the best parts of his job is being able to have a positive influence on students. “To know that what I’m doing makes a difference in their lives,” he said.
Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit www.fsdb.k12.fl.us.