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The eyes have it

10 December 2012

“Differently abled” is not just a euphemism for what we often call “handicapped”, at least in Oaxaca. Kevin Hartnett (Boston Globe)

Violent crime in Mexico has pushed Mexican law enforcement to find new ways to fight crime, and one of the most innovative experiments is taking place in Oaxaca: According to local news reports, a team of 20 deaf police officers monitoring 230 security cameras scattered throughout the city’s historic downtown.

The deaf officers, nicknamed the “Angels of Silence,” are considered an asset because of their ability to read lips, to detect visual cues that might suggest nervousness or suspicious activity, and to pay attention to the visual periphery as they stare at a wall of monitors displaying different camera feeds.

spycamThe idea echoes the 2003 Ben Affleck movie “Daredevil,” in which the title character’s remaining senses grow to superhero proportions after he is blinded by toxic waste. It has a precedent in real life, too: In Belgium, a visually impaired man named Sacha van Loo uses his acute hearing and knack for identifying foreign accents to help police.

Though there is no specific data available, the Oaxaca project has been judged a success. Last month the first corps of deaf police officers began training new recruits who soon will sit behind security cameras trained on other parts of the country, including tourist-intensive destinations like Puerto Escondido and Huatulco.

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