Intellectual/developmental Disability Training for Law Enforcement

A report from California Health Policy Strategies indicates that the prevalence of mental illness in California jails is on the rise. The report analyzed data from 50 counties regarding mental health cases and the rate of prescriptions for psychotropic medications in jails between 2009 and 2019.
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are more likely to have encounters with law enforcement and are also more likely to have communication difficulties that can lead to misunderstandings, and sometimes tragic consequences. In 2013, Robert Ethan Saylor, a young man with Down’s Syndrome, was asphyxiated after an encounter with off duty Maryland police officers at a movie theater. Saylor’s caregiver pleaded with police to let her handle the situation when he refused to leave the theater. In 2012, Stephon Watts, a 15-year old boy with autism, was shot by police outside Chicago. In 2016, a Florida police officer shot an unarmed caretaker who was attempting to calm a man with autism. It is clear that more needs to be done to protect the rights and lives of people with I/DD, and better training for police officers may be the solution.

Training for Law Enforcement

After the death of Ethan Saylor, the state of Maryland initiated a groundbreaking plan to provide training to law enforcement on the ins and outs of I/DD. Across the country, Crisis Intervention Training sometimes includes information regarding I/DD, but there is not enough training and the need is increasing. States and localities that utilize I/DD awareness training see fewer deaths and injuries among both officers and people with disabilities. Comprehensive training of law enforcement officers should include information on:

  • Identifying individuals with I/DD
  • Recognizing symptoms of I/DD
  • Effective communications strategies
  • Alternatives to lethal force

Training for law enforcement across the board could improve interactions between police and people with I/DD and ensure the safety of everyone involved. Even basic training on how I/DD affects an individual’s ability to interact with others and respond to requests from law enforcement, can go a long way toward saving lives.

Pathways to Justice™

The National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) (an organization of which Elizabeth Kelley is co-chair) began an initiative called Pathways to Justice™: A Comprehensive Training Program for Law Enforcement, Victim Service Providers, and Attorneys on Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities. The program provides comprehensive, hands-on training materials to criminal justice professionals with the goal of raising awareness of the fact that people with disabilities are at a disadvantage in the criminal justice system. According to the NCCJD, proper training protects both the police officer and the rights and safety of the person with a disability.

If you or a loved one suffers from a disability and has been convicted of or arrested for a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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