Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Columbia, South Carolina, Police Department to Ensure Communication Access for Persons with Hearing Disabilities

The Justice Department announced today a settlement with the Columbia, South Carolina, Police Department (CPD) to ensure that persons who are deaf or hard of hearing receive sign language interpreters and other services necessary for effective communication when interacting with CPD police officers, whether on the road or at a precinct. 

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public entities such as police officers, firefighters and correctional officers to ensure that their communications with people with hearing disabilities are as effective as their communications with people without disabilities.  

CPD, under the leadership of Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook, serves the largest city in the state of South Carolina with more than 133,000 residents.  After the department completed an investigation that found that CPD was not providing the required services to allow for effective communication with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, CPD worked cooperatively to reach an agreement to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.  Under the settlement agreement, CPD will:

  • Provide auxiliary aids and services free of charge, including sign language interpreters, to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, within proscribed time frames;
  • Modify handcuffing policies to handcuff deaf individuals in front, safety permitting, to enable the person to communicate using sign language or writing;
  • Designate an ADA coordinator for law enforcement;
  • Develop and utilize a communication card to communicate with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing during routine interactions in the field;
  • Develop a communication assessment form to assess, in consultation with an arrestee, what auxiliary aids or services are necessary, and the timing, duration and frequency with which they will be provided;
  • Provide at least one TTY and one videophone at each CPD station and sub-station;
  • Conduct annual ADA training for CPD personnel and;
  • Adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints against CPD alleging any action that would be prohibited by Title II or the agreement.

“Our first responders play a critical role in protecting the safety of our communities, and we must ensure they can communicate effectively with all people, including those with hearing disabilities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “This settlement will ensure that the Columbia Police Department complies with federal law, protects the civil rights of all its residents and more effectively advances public safety.”

The Justice Department has a number of publications available to assist entities to comply with the ADA, including Effective Communication, which provides guidance on the department’s regulations relating to communicating effectively with people who have vision, hearing or speech disabilities.  For more information on the ADA and to access these publications, visit www.ada.gov.  Those interested in learning more about this settlement or the obligations of public accommodations under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.   ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

CPD Settlement Agreement

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 
Updated May 3, 2016