UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- In the shadow of St. Thomas More church on the Upper East Side, the NYPD is shining a light on a group too often left in the dark - an outreach program to New Yorkers who are deaf and hard of hearing.
"We know that deaf and hard of hearing, their primary language is sign language. American Sign Language is a mixture of gestures and body movements. We wanted to engage with this community not only to understand their language but vice versa," said Community Affairs Bureau Officer Angel Familia.
This summer, the NYPD is hiring 32 deaf and hard-of-hearing young people to be paired with officers across the city - part of the youth employment program.
"Those officers that know sign language are going to be working side by side with these young people and engaging them for the summer," says Alden Foster, Director of Community Engagement Bureau.
For Officer Familia, it's personal.
"I am a child of deaf adults - both of my parents are deaf. My first language was American Sign Language, and I had to attend school to learn how to speak," Officer Familia said.
Now, he is helping bridge the gap between police and the community.
Officers who can sign interacted with dozens of people getting safety tips, health screenings, and giveaways on East 89th Street.
Police say every precinct is equipped with either a sign language interpreter or technology to communicate with people who are deaf.
"Every officer has a smartphone. On that smartphone, even if the officer doesn't know sign language, they can click on that 'Our Language Line' app they'll be able to pull up an interpreter to engage with deaf community," said Foster.
Anyone can also now text 911.
"It is important for the deaf community to know we have deaf employees, but we also want to continue the outreach with them," Foster added.
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