After a couple of firsts for the NYPD in the past few months — first Dominican-American Chief of Patrols, first African American Chief of Detectives — there is one more first for the department to celebrate.
For the first time in the history of the department, there is an officer whose first language is American Sign Language.
Before Angel Familia ever learned how to speak, he learned to communicate through sign language — making English his second language. That's because Familia is ACODA: a child of deaf adults.
"Growing up to the age of 7 my whole language was sign language," Familia told NBC New York. "It’s all I knew until I got to school and was exposed to the spoken language."
As a child, Familia became a bridge between his deaf parents and the spoken world.
“I was able to be a voice for my family,” Familia said. Now he can be a voice for a community that is very close to his heart, while living his childhood dream of becoming a member of New York's Finest.
"Now I have the ability, opportunity to be the voice of the deaf community. That’s big,” he said.
Having an officer who is fluent in ASL is big deal for those in the deaf community, who now know there is someone in the department who can communicate with them in the event of an emergency.
Familia went to speak with a a group of deaf individuals who gather to play bingo on the Upper East Side, making sure that they know how to contact police or whomever in case of emergency.
With Familia as a translator, Helen Francia said she feels "very proud" that someone from the police department is able to break through to the deaf community.
Carlos Aponte signed to Familia that "When he heard there’s a new police officer that graduated that knew sign language, he felt thrilled."
With the city's first police officer whose first language is ASL, as well as a new app that gives officers the ability to communicate in any language, one priest who has been serving the deaf community for half a century said it speaks volumes for the NYPD.
“If they know a police officer has the means to communicate, that’s excellent," said Monsignor Patrick McCahill. "Then a deaf person doesn’t have to be afraid to approach a police officer.”
Other officers within Familia's department have given the rookie officer a warm welcome — and are very interested in learning ASL for themselves.
“I’m glad that all the officers take an interest in this language because it is important," Familia said. "Even if you know the basic signs it goes along way to interacting with the deaf community.”
Familia was teaching a few of the other officers the signs they can use to ask a deaf person how they can help them. I'm