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Criminal Justice Report Writing: Interviewing a Person with Special Needs

Police officers often encounter citizens with special needs, such as vision, hearing, or mobility issues. These tips will help you conduct an interview efficiently and effectively.

1. Use your voice appropriately. Many people unknowingly start yelling when talking to a person in a wheelchair or someone who cannot see. Talk normally. (The same principle applies when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know much English. Yelling won’t help!)

2. Maintain eye contact. Sit down if the citizen is lying in bed or sitting in a wheelchair. Direct your questions to the person you are interviewing, not to a family member or carer (unless you are asked to do so).

3. Be respectful. Do not pet or play with a service animal. Get permission before moving or adjusting a wheelchair. Do not bump into or sit on a patient’s bed. Listen patiently to speech-impaired citizens: do not coach them or finish your words or sentences for them. A blind person will appreciate knowing who else is present during an interview.

4. Offer help when needed (but ask first). A blind person may appreciate being gently guided by the elbow. Some people who are hard of hearing can read lips if there is good light and you are directly in their line of sight. Ask how you can facilitate the interview and follow up when the citizen makes a suitable suggestion or request.

5. Recognize the intelligence of the person. It is all too easy to patronize or insult a person who has a disability. Use the same vocabulary and sentence structure that you would use in any interview. For example, it’s okay to use words like “see” and “walk” in conversation with a blind person or someone sitting in a wheelchair.

6. Do not rush to conclusions about mental or physical abilities, especially when it comes to a child or an elderly person. A person of almost any age, young or old, may have useful information for you.

7. Arrange for an adult to be present when interviewing a child. If privacy is needed, have the adult close enough for the child to see, or delay the interview until you can locate an adult the child can trust.

8. Be careful when talking to a third person: an EMT, chaplain, nurse, firefighter, or other official. Avoid insensitive jokes or insults that a citizen might overhear. In a hospital room, remember that a patient who seems unconscious can still hear what he is saying.

These simple tips show your professionalism and build confidence in you and your agency. Review and practice them until they become second nature – they will serve you well throughout your law enforcement career.

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