Port Authority Police Officer Dana Fuller was on patrol at the Lincoln Tunnel in December 2015 when the Hoboken Police Department called requesting assistance with a car accident involving a deaf person. The Hoboken officers had been met with silence, but Fuller’s arrival put the victim at ease and helped defuse the situation, because the two men shared the same language — Signing.
Fuller is the only PAPD officer nationally certified with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. When he joined the PAPD four years ago, he had no idea how valuable his command of American Sign Language (ASL) would be.
“I’ve had two passions growing up, one being in law enforcement and the other having to do with my work in the deaf community,” said Fuller, whose parents and siblings were all hearing-deprived. “I am fortunate enough to have merged the two.”
Fuller’s abilities in communicating with the deaf community isn’t limited to his work with the PAPD. He’s served as an interpreter for the deaf at Broadway shows and theatrical productions in New Jersey – 15 and counting – as well as in courtrooms, classrooms and on-the-job training sessions.
Within his first six months as a PAPD officer, assigned to Newark Liberty International Airport, he was called to a terminal where a deaf man was lost trying to locate the gate where his daughter was due to arrive. Fuller immediately started communicating with him and helped connect the anxious father with his daughter.
“Excellence is not an act, it’s a habit,” said Fuller’s supervisor, Sgt. Scott Kelliher. “Officer Fuller exemplifies excellence.”
Since childhood, Fuller’s hearing abilities, along with his ability to sign, defined his role in his family and his career. Being the only hearing person in his immediate family, he had an early responsibility to become the family interpreter. He would accompany his parents to doctors’ appointments and most of their errands to assist with communication.
Fuller learned English from watching television and attending school. But it was a difficult process. In kindergarten, his teachers were concerned because he was completely silent. They had conversations with his aunt, his auditory point of contact, and she assured them he was perfectly fine.
At his kindergarten graduation, he finally spoke in front of an audience. “I love my mom and dad,” he said.
Despite his unconventional upbringing, Fuller doesn’t feel he missed out on anything. “I owe it all to my parents,” he said. “They were the ones who taught me this beautiful language, and with that, I’m blessed to share my language, my culture and my story to those I come in contact with.”
Fuller now has a family of his own; his wife is a certified ASL interpreter and their two children are able to hear, but use sign language to communicate with their grandparents. He graduated from Seton Hall University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and obtained his Master’s Degree in Sign Language Teaching from Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf.
In addition to his police work, he spends some of his free time signing for deaf patrons of Broadway shows, as a member of the Theater Development Fund as one of its interpreters. Of the Broadway shows he’s signed, the Tony-winning musical “Billy Elliot” is his favorite.
Prior to joining the PAPD, Fuller was a full-time ASL high school teacher at Bergenfield (N.J.) High School and a part-time ASL professor at Kean University in Union, N.J. He hopes more PAPD officers are able build relationships with the deaf community by learning to sign. He believes it can enhance an officer’s communications skills and better enable them to serve the public.
“If I have one positive contact with a deaf person at work, it gives me the opportunity to set a good example and link law enforcement to the deaf community,” he said.