A Deaf Policeman Heard the Noise…

By BitcoDavid

Oaxaca Mexico now has a contingent of [d]eaf police officers, to monitor the non-audio equipped surveillance cameras that watch goings on in parking lots, markets and on streets. The belief being that these natural lipreaders will be able to observe conversations and other indications of criminal activity.

Known as Angels of Silence the city of Oaxaca has hired them based on their heightened vision and ability to read lips.

The 230 surveillance cameras in Oaxaca’s historic center and surrounding area provide feeds for the Police’s Command and Communication Control Center (C4). A team of 20 deaf police officers monitors the cameras in search of suspicious activities. (Courtesy of the Public Safety Secretariat of Oaxaca)
The 230 surveillance cameras in Oaxaca’s historic center and surrounding area provide feeds for the Police’s Command and Communication Control Center (C4). A team of 20 deaf police officers monitors the cameras in search of suspicious activities. (Courtesy of the Public Safety Secretariat of Oaxaca)
Image: http://infosurhoy.com/cocoon/saii/xhtml/en_GB/features/saii/features/main/2012/10/19/feature-01

Well, I’m certainly glad that these people are getting work, but I think the city’s in for a rude awakening when they discover that Deaf do not have heightened visual acuity, nor are they born lipreaders. And even if they were, lipreading isn’t magic. Even the best lipreader isn’t going to be able to discern a conversation from a surveillance camera – on a darkened street during the wee hours. It’s not like most criminals plan their nefarious activities at high noon.

Marsha Graham from AnotherBoomerBlog is an exceptional lipreader. And yet, when I talk with her, I need to be looking straight at her, and I can’t be doing all the things Hearies do, like smoke cigars, chew gum, drink coffee, eat, pick our noses… etc. I doubt the Oaxaca criminal population will be looking – clean shaven and empty mouthed – directly at these cameras.

Our contributor, Dr. Jean F. Andrews had this to say.

The lipreading ability is exaggerated. And to give press to this hurts the deaf community in the criminal justice system. I just came off a case where police and detectives assumed the deaf woman was lipreading as they read her Miranda rights, and did not provide her with an interpreter. So, it promulgates the myth that deaf are expert lipreaders. The prosecutor in the case even swayed the judge on this issue.

If you’d like to read more on this, go to

http://infosurhoy.com/cocoon/saii/xhtml/en_GB/features/saii/features/main/2012/10/19/feature-01

English: Seen from the main facada of the ex-C...
Seen from the main facada of the ex-Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, in Oaxaca city, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

9 thoughts on “A Deaf Policeman Heard the Noise…

  1. The shows/movies I watch on television are captioned, but not all of the commercials are. I can understand a portion of what’s being said on the commercials by lipreading and watching body language. As a deaf person, this is how I experience life – always lipreading, always watching to try to understand what’s happening.

    I’m pretty sure the deaf police officers are NOT understanding everything that’s being said on these silent videos, but they’re probably getting more than a normal hearing person would get. Which is better – getting 0%, or maybe 30-40%, plus body language?

    So – I am glad these deaf police officers have been given the opportunity to do this work. More power to them!

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    1. I agree. And I’m glad they’re working regardless of efficacy. You’re right that they can probably perceive more from these tapes than Hearing can, but there is concern that it will promulgate further stereotypical thinking amongst the hearing community – especially law enforcement.

      It is really important that when a Deaf person gets arrested, the cops and attorneys KNOW that he’s Deaf, and don’t assume that he has skills he may not have.

      We think that the blind can hear a fly fart in a hurricane, and we could well be wrong. Likewise, if we think ALL Deaf are natural born lipreaders, we can be doing a disservice to the community.

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      1. Not all deaf people can lipread – that’s a definite fact. Not all deaf people require the same type of accommodation – late deafened people might not have any sign language skills or be able to lipread – they require CART or pen and paper to communicate. Some Deaf people can only communicate in sign language, and can’t fingerspell. Lipreading is NOT a one-size-fits-all!

        I was glad to read that these lipreading deaf police officers were able to use their skills in this capacity.

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  2. Yes, exactly. So it should go that a cop – through an interpreter – says, “Oh, you’re Deaf? Well, what do you need to be able to communicate with us?” Not, Oh, you’re Deaf? OK. I’ll speak really slowly and try not to stick my fingers in my mouth, and you’ll be just fine. After all, all Deafies can read lips, right? And I’m told you all can see in the dark, too.”

    All we’re saying here is that the reporting of this story – not the story itself – may lead to reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

    But I do agree that I’m glad to see these people getting paid for their skills.

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  3. Lipreading isn’t the only myth promugated with deaf people. Another myth is have a “sixth sense.” Leroy Colombo the famous lifeguard of Galveston Island who saved more than 1,000 beach swimmers over his career, was attributed to have a special “sixth sense” when seeing a potential drowning victim. In actuality, Leroy was a competent lifeguard who read the tides, the wave motion, knew about rip tides and where they were and where they trapped swimmers (along the wooden jetties). He could visually detect a swimmer in distress due to his experience and these skills had nothing to do with audition. So it was not the “magical sixth sense” it was his visual acuity and his knowledge of the sea and his experiences seeing swimmers in distress.
    We need to give deaf people their due–their acquired skills and competence rather than attributing to them magical qualities.

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  4. Exactly. We – the so-called normal community – have an innate love for this mythology, and not just with the Deaf. We love the idea of the “Blind Oracle,” who can read the future, or the wheel chair bound paraplegic who can always win in a ground fight, because of his superior upper body strength. Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s deformed character who possessed more Human dignity than all those who surrounded him – so when you see a hideously deformed hunchback, you would be naive to assume that he had the soul of a sage.

    Conversely, you would also be errant in assuming that his brain was as ghastly and broken as his body.

    People are people. Some can read lips – as well as lips can be read. Some are serial killers, while others like puppies and Rosehip tea.

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  5. I have all my senses. I can see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Still, I can’t make heads or tails out of half the grainy and ill-shot YouTube videos I see. I find it doubtful that these people – or any people – could read lips from a surveillance camera at night. Generally, the images caught on those types of devices are nothing more than out of focus, shapeless blobs.

    And I do know a little something about video technology.

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