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Police monitoring tv screens

Silent Angels in the Mexican Police

I take issue with the word disability. It focuses on all the wrong things. People who have grown up with a developmental disability have a unique skill set. I study human resources at school and I’m always surprised by how little the basic, well known precepts of the discipline are applied to people with disabilities. The right person for the right job and maximizing talent are basics that seem to get overlooked with people. When I read Good to Great the idea that you should do what you’re best at, not merely good at stuck with me.

Focus on ability and great things happen. People’s coping strategies often hone skills the average person may not have; everything from navigating wheelchairs, to highly developed empathy when training new subjects, to being uber-observant. Everyone’s got something they bring to the table. It’s up to a creative leader to observe that skill, cultivate it, and make it shine for your organization.

Police monitoring tv screens
Photo from NY Times Article

A stellar example of using just such latent talent appeared here. Oaxaca Police Department in Mexico have recruited a cadre of 20 deaf officers to observe camera feeds in real time to observe and report on crime. Where other officers might be distracted by the hum and whistle of a busy command centre these officers laser in on ne’er-do-wells.

The controversial 230 camera system has raised privacy concerns but brought valuable crime prevention and lowered response rates to the community. As the camera images lack sound the officers have a unique ability to lip read what people are saying. The deaf cadre are also more observant than the average police recruit and statistically catch more criminals in the act as a result. They act as eyes for purse snatching victims, car accidents as they happen, and they even helped solve a murder!

Most of the cadre struggled with finding gainful employment before being recruited as police officers. Mexico, like most nations, struggles with high unemployment among the disabled. Many cite being turned down for office work and other positions because of employer’s reluctance to tailor the available position for the deaf.

The officers receive training in police procedure but are not sworn in as patrol officers. Neither do they carry guns. Their talents are solely focused on the command centre where their disability gives them a unique advantage over their fellow officers. This kind of talent leveraging works well for everyone as crimes are efficiently processed and dealt with as they happen.

Ignacio Villalobos, the public safety undersecretary, is very enthusiastic about the new program. No specific data has been released as of yet. It waits on future evaluation for hard statistics on the excellent job these officers are doing, but the buzz is that things are looking very optimistic for Oaxaca tourism and the safety of its residents thanks to their ‘silent angels.’

It’s great to see a program like the one in Oaxaca being such a success. You guys have any community success stories you’d like to share? Drop a note in the comments!


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