Several law enforcement officer (LEO) essential job tasks (EJTs) are hearing dependent. However, the educated and motivated LEO who has certain hearing abnormalities can be capable of safe and effective job performance.
The ability to hear and understand verbal communication and to detect, recognize and localize sounds is critical in order for the LEO to safely and effectively perform his or her EJTs.1 Hearing ability is most commonly objectively measured by audiometry (auditory acuity). However, safe performance of hearing-dependent EJTs not only involves auditory acuity, but also cognitive integration of perceived sounds, which is dependent on subjective factors such as the training, experience, native language, and motivation. All of these factors contribute to the LEO’s capability of performing EJTs.
There is an absence of literature evaluating the relationship between hearing acuity and LEO-related job task performance. Therefore, at this time, the exact point at which hearing ability is insufficient to perform EJTs safely has not been determined. While the LEO would need to be able to recognize sounds, such as the opening of a folding knife or those associated with a weapon, the policing community has not determined the threshold (as a quantitative decibel level and frequency range) at which these sounds must be detected. Similarly, the effect of ambient noise and distance from the source has not been quantified. Nevertheless, the police physician will be asked to determine whether the LEO needs to have restrictions for EJTs where hearing is critical to those tasks (see Hearing Assessment – Inadequate Performance below). Appendices A and B list typical sound sources and their intensity and frequency range, respectively.
This chapter provides evaluation criteria to assist the police physician in determining if the LEO is capable of safely and effectively performing hearing-dependent EJTs. Unless specific references are cited, categorical cut-off levels in this chapter are consensus opinions of the Task Group. These opinions have been derived from review of the medical literature and hearing guidelines from other organizations (see Appendix C). In general, the final opinions of the Task Group incorporated the least restrictive thresholds identified in this review.
The Task Group has come to a consensus opinion that the use of hearing aids is acceptable. However, there is considerable controversy about this topic. It is not clear how much these aids will improve hearing function and there is a question of minimum un-aided criteria.2
At times, when there is no specific literature or guidance, the Task Group suggests that functional or job simulation testing be done. This would require testing to determine if the LEO is able to perform specific job functions in a simulated job situation. The agency having jurisdiction (AHJ) would need to provide the acceptable criteria for that specific job task.