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Ban on Hearing-Aids Forcing Early Retirement of Seasoned Cops

Ban on Hearing-Aids Forcing Early Retirement of Seasoned Cops

New York Times via YellowBrix [Premium]

June 20, 2011

NEW YORK – The New York Police Department’s policy regarding a job candidate’s hearing ability is straightforward enough: Applicants who fail a basic hearing test will not be hired as officers.

But for police officers already on the job, the policy is not so clear-cut.

After years of informally allowing officers to wear hearing aids, and even paying for some, the department in late 2009 began enforcing a ban on the hearing devices, forcing older officers who had them to retire and instructing younger officers to stop wearing them at work.

Two of those forced to retire have filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, contending that the policy forbidding hearing aids is discriminatory toward those with hearing loss, according to the officers’ lawyer, Colleen M. Meenan.

The former officers, Daniel Carione, 44, and Jim Phillips, 40, also contend that the policy serves as a deterrent to officers who otherwise might report their hearing loss.

“This just forces the ones with hearing impairments to hide,” said Mr. Carione, a former deputy inspector who received a hearing aid in 2009 that was paid for by the department, only to be forced into retirement two years later.

“It sends a message to anyone who is suffering from hearing loss that if you come forward and make that known, we will end your career,” he said.

The two men say that because the department does not routinely test officers for hearing, the hearing-aid ban does little to weed out officers with hearing loss.

One officer, who normally wears a hearing aid but removes it while on duty, said he believed that his hearing deficiency left him less equipped to adequately serve.

“I do everything I can to reduce the odds of getting myself hurt, or someone else hurt,” said the officer, who insisted on anonymity because of his condition. He acknowledged that there were times when he could not properly hear communications on the police radio.

“I had to do a warrant check and I couldn’t hear the words,” he said. “I could hear the sound, but I couldn’t hear the words.”

Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, said it was “not actively looking to see if people have hearing aids.”

“But presumably if someone came forward and said, ‘I need a hearing aid,’ and it indicates that your hearing is diminished, then that could lead to a disability retirement,” he added.

The department has not publicized its ban on hearing aids for active officers.

In three cases, the Police Department has told officers to stop wearing their hearing aids even though it had previously authorized their use, Ms. Meenan said.

Mr. Browne said those three cases involved “officers who were under the impression they needed hearing aids, but did not.”

Mr. Browne said hearing aids were incompatible with police work because they were vulnerable to “mechanical failure, earwax buildup or any number of things,” and could not completely compensate for hearing deficiencies that might render an officer unable to hear a command properly.

In challenging the department’s policy, Mr. Carione and Mr. Phillips also raise questions about the extent of job-related hearing loss among police officers, who hear some of the loudest noises the city has to offer, in higher doses than ordinary citizens experience.

Over the years, many police officers who had spent their careers working in the subways complained of hearing loss, said Robert Valentino, a former spokesman for the transit police, which was a separate police force until 1995.

“You work in the subway over time, no matter what, you’ll have hearing loss,” said Mr. Valentino, who said his own hearing declined noticeably between 1968 and 1980, the period when he worked underground. “The noise is just incredible.”

A study about noise in the city’s mass transit system that was published in The American Journal of Public Health in 2009 found that “exposures of a few hours to as little as 2 minutes a day” to the noise levels on some subway platforms “would be expected to cause hearing loss for some people given chronic exposure.”

Mr. Carione’s hearing loss dates to July 4, 1996, he said, when he shot and killed a drunken man who was menacing him with a knife. Another officer fired five shots less than two feet from Mr. Carione’s ear.

Mr. Carione pointed out that in 2004, despite his impairment, he could hear well enough to dive off Canarsie Pier while fishing one night and save a drowning autistic man.

“I heard enough to hear that splash, didn’t I?” Mr. Carione said in a recent interview.

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  • Pug_max600_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Does that mean you can't wear dentures because they might come loose in a struggle. Clearing out the highest paid officers is somebody's idea of cost savings? There are desk jobs where a hearing aid is not "dangerous". Very short-sighted pun intended.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    Sounds like the Dept is trying to move out the seasoned vets that might have better bennys for the younger officer making less and getting less bennys

  • Imagesca4hzk2w_max50


    about 4 years ago


    like Robocop stated earlier, what if you get into a fight and your glasses get knocked off, contacts fall out, ect. You still need to be able to see good enough to defend yourself. Same goes with hearing aids. I think if you completely rely on a hearing aid to hear then I support the policy, but you also should give the guys with partial hearing some slack, just like guys with glasses/contacts. I wear contacts by the way.

  • Az_phx_motorcade1a_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Its like saying you can't wear glasses ... stupid

  • Caduceus_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I'll bet that this a violation of the ADA, perhaps ageism

  • Fallenherobadge-3-1_max160_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Stupid rule and quite possibly a violation of the ADA. Eyeglasses are just one example of how we adjust to the disabilities of our employees. Hearing aids are another. What about people who lost a lower leg to an injury? I have seen more than a few great officers who were able to overcome the disability and keep working.

  • 1979_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Bump IrishCop, NYPD is a huge department and the level of experiance these guys have is worth quite a bit. There should be some job they can do that does not require perfect hearing or vision.

  • Img_0933_max50


    about 4 years ago


    With all the jobs and assignments in the NYPD, I find it hard that they can't serve in some kind of capacity.

  • 1979_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Also, when it comes to wearing glasses, if you vision is so bad that you cannot see without wearing them then that should also preclude you from working the streets. I myself am very nearsighted but I can still see well enough to observe danger such as a weapon within 50 yrds. All senses should be appraised as to the amount of disability they hurt the individual Officer. Slight hearing loss like slight near-sightedness should be allowed. We wear glasses so why not allow hearing aids. Just remember you need to be honest with yourself to understand how well that reduces your abilities when you lose those devices.

  • 1979_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I can see the point of the upper echelon on this. If for some reason the Officer loses his hearing aid then he loses a good deal of his ability to safely perform his duties. Now maybe if the Officer is assigned to desk duty or some other activity that takes him off the street then okay, allow then to remain with a hearing aid as they can do lots of good with their experience BUT, on the street, unfortunately they become a liability.

  • Heather_s_stud__3__max50


    about 4 years ago


    We have a similiar policy with the Dept of Veterans Affairs. We have to take a physical / psychological exam every year. If you have a hearing loss requiring the wearing of hear aids, you cannot be a VA Police Officer. I agree with Mr. Carione, in that a loss of eye glasses would pose a greater risk than not being able to hear. Or, at least, an equal risk.

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