For individuals with mental disabilities, encounters with law enforcement can quickly escalate into serious situations. Issues with communication can exacerbate the problem. Individuals with communication barriers can be arrested or even become the victims of the use of force by a police officer solely as a result of their disability. The passage of Ohio’s House Bill 115hopes to help avoid dangerous situations between police officers and individuals with communication disabilities.
Communication Disability Registry
Under the law, which went into effect in August of last year, any individual with a disability that affects their communications skills can voluntarily submit a verification form which would identify them as having a communication disability. The form requires a physician’s signature verifying the communication disability and a parent’s signature if the individual is under 18 years old. This information is placed in the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) and made available to all state and local law enforcement officers. When a police officer runs an individual’s driver’s license or license plate, the information about the communication disability should be indicated. Only general information about the communication disability is disclosed and not the diagnosis of the individual.
Communication disabilities can range from hearing impairment to conditions such as PTSD and autism. These conditions are not always understood by law enforcement officers and can become barriers to effective communication. The availability of a registry identifying an individual's communication issue can go a long way toward preventing the escalation of law enforcement interactions. However, along with the information in the registry, law enforcement needs to be given the proper training on how to interact with individuals who have communication disabilities.
Participation in the registry is entirely voluntary, and Ohio is taking steps to increase awareness of the program. Law enforcement and other agencies have used social media and other avenues to spread the word. The program will only have a significant impact on the quality of police interactions if it is utilized in a widespread manner.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.