In terms of usage, a computer that allows hearing- and speech-impaired people to communicate with dispatchers hasn't paid off for the Lawrence Police Department.
The $575 machine has gathered a lot of dust since it was purchased five years ago, having been used only a handful of times.
But in the three or four times the machine has been used, it's proven to be invaluable to police and to the people who could never have reported emergencies without it.
On April 2, for instance, a 20-year-old Lawrence woman used the system to report she was molested by a man at her apartment. The woman, who is deaf and speech-impaired, has used the system since then to communicate with members of the district attorney's office.
THE WOMAN indicated recently in a written interview that she was thankful the police department had the machine, which is known as a teletypewriter, or TTY.
"I'm really happy they have it with their office," she wrote, adding that she has a similar machine and uses it for most of her over-the-phone business. "I really need someone who knows how to use TTY."
A TTY, also called a TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf), is a combination telephone and typewriter that allows a hearing- or speech-impaired person to type his or her portion of the conversation.
When someone makes a call to police on a TTY, the machine sends a computer tone over the phone alerting the dispatcher to hook his phone to the TTY.
Once the computers are linked, the dispatcher and the caller communicate by typing out messages.
RESIDENTS who use a TTY and need to contact the police department should always dial 911, Sgt. Kevin Harmon said.
"They shouldn't ever feel hesitant to call 911, even if it's only to send a message to somebody else in the building," Harmon said.
Harmon said dispatchers are trained to recognize the computer tone that identifies the call as coming from a TTY. Other personnel at the Law Enforcement Center may not know how to handle the calls because the tone is similar to the tone signaling an incoming message from a facsimile machine.
The 20-year-old woman, who indicated she became deaf after running a high fever when she was 11 months old, said this was the first time she had called police on the TTY.
HAD THE department not had the telephone-typewriter, she said, she would have been forced to use a relay system to communicate with them. A relay system, in which a TTY user contacts a hearing and speaking person to act as a spokesman, would have been much slower than the police department's TTY.
After receiving the woman's message April 2, police arrested a 23-year-old Lawrence man. The man was charged the next day with a felony count of rape.
The woman's case resulted in an unprecendented move in Douglas County District Judge Mike Malone's court when the judge hired a sign-language expert to interpret the woman's testimony at the preliminary hearing.
After the hearing, Malone ordered the man to stand trial June 25.