Police Community Support Officer Debbie Turner learned the valuable skill after her daughter was born prematurely 35 years ago and suffered with hearing loss.
As a result, Debbie attended several events where she was made aware of the different methods used to communicate and went on to gain a formal British Sign Language (BSL) qualification.
During Debbie’s four-years as a PCSO, based in Medway’s Community Support Unit, she has been able to use her skill four times to assist victims of crime who were unable to verbally communicate.
Most recently, Debbie attended a call to an incident in Rainham where on Tuesday 24 August 2021, a woman was reported to have been assaulted inside a property by a man known to her.
The victim was deaf and not able to talk and Debbie used BSL to calm and reassure the woman enough to obtain an account about what happened, ensuring the correct suspect was taken into custody therefore safeguarding the victim. The man was later charged with assaulting the woman.
Debbie said: ‘Using sign language enables me to provide an instant response to incidents that have a need for signing before an accredited BSL interpreter can be booked.
‘During my time I have used the skill to help with neighbour disputes, banking protocols and to also inform someone that their loved one had passed away.
‘I’d like to do a refresher course but even remembering basics such as fingerspelling, nouns and feelings can make all the difference to victims of crime who cannot communicate verbally. They don’t expect me to have the skill and I know it’s always really appreciated when I start signing and they are able to tell me what has happened to them.’