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PARAMUS, N.J. – Bergen Community College student Jonathan Uloa saw Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Christopher Sloma in his rearview mirror, lights flashing. Uloa pulled his car to a stop, but remained concerned about what would follow – not because of a potential ticket, but because as a member of the deaf community, communicating with law enforcement can present challenges.
But this time, and once Uloa identified himself as deaf, Sgt. Sloma returned to his patrol car and returned with a tool to foster communication between law enforcement and the deaf community – a card created by the College’s Office of Specialized Services and the Sheriff’s Office. The colorful communication card enabled Uloa and Sgt. Sloma to interact with each other via pictures and words.
The simulated traffic stop took place Nov. 8 at the College as part of a launch event for the communication card.
“We are a community college, and that means different things to different people, but here is the key point: our mission is to make possible an affordable, quality education for all,” Bergen President Michael D. Redmond, Ph.D., who spoke at the event, said. “We welcome students of different races and ethnicities, from different countries of origin, natives and immigrants alike, sexual orientation, gender identities, as well as differences in ability. And we strive to help all of to find their places and begin on a path to a better future. This initiative represents another reflection of these goals.”
The Sheriff’s Office has laminated the card and will place it 70 departmental vehicles and distribute among 52 officers. The College will also distribute the card among students and at social service, governmental and public agencies. Sheriff Anthony Cureton plans a wider release, too.
“It is our hope that this card will serve as a regional model for all law enforcement in Northern New Jersey,” he said. “You have my commitment that my office and I will take this card to the Bergen County Chiefs Association in hopes to implement in departments across Bergen County.”
Members of the College’s Office of Specialized Services, which assists nearly 1,300 students with disabilities each year, led the development of the card.
“This card will help to keep officers safe and in legal compliance with communication needs until an interpreter can arrive on the scene,” department coordinator Jennifer Flynn said. “This communication card offers a great deal of assistance for the officer and the driver alike; but our work is not yet done. We are continuing our training and collaboration on this and future endeavors.”
For more than a decade, the Sheriff’s Office has maintained a substation at the College to support the campus’ overall safety. In addition to providing the College with uniformed law enforcement, officers have often collaborated with the institution’s faculty and staff to develop new initiatives aimed at enhancing community relations. In addition to the card, officers have hosted events such as “coffee with a cop” and K-9 demonstrations.
Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.
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