Page last updated at 11:36 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 12:36 UK

Sign language lessons for police

Course leaders say it is important to communicate properly with deaf people

A group of Gwent Police officers are learning sign language to improve how they communicate with deaf people.

Nine officers and staff are following the 20-week British Sign Language course following an introductory course last year.

Those taking part include a custody officer and a station inquiry officer.

Heather Blythe, from Gwent Police's training department, said officers had already put their skills to good use in incidents involving deaf people.

"We've got a Pc who works in the Newport area and she was called to an incident involving a deaf person because she was learning sign language," said Ms Blythe, who is also doing the course.

"When you've got friendly officers coming into contact with deaf people it immediately puts them at ease knowing the officers can communicate in sign language, even if it's very basic."

Police in car
This is far more than a breakthrough, it's one of the most positive things to happen in Wales for a very long time
Paul Leonard, Deaf Association Wales

The course gives officers a basic knowledge of sign language but is also geared specifically to officers' needs.

"We did emergency situations this week, which for police officers is obviously quite useful," said Ms Blythe.

"We were learning the signs for 'emergency', 'I need help', 'I need an interpreter' and so on.

"We will be able to have a fairly decent conversation at the end of it."

The course is particularly aimed at officers who are likely to come into contact with deaf people.

Paul Leonard, of Deaf Association Wales, said other emergency services were also now following Gwent Police's lead.

"This is far more than a breakthrough, it's one of the most positive things to happen in Wales for a very long time," he said.

Nadene Scott, who teaches the course, said it was important for police officers to be able to communicate properly with deaf people.

She added that other people in other lines of work should also learn sign language.

Gwent Police offers a Typetalk service and a text-messaging service for people who have difficulty in contacting police by telephone.

To use the text-messaging service, residents must first register their details with Gwent Police.

The address is: Duty supervisor, Gwent Police force control room, police headquarters, Croesyceiliog, Cwmbran, NP44 2XJ.

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