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Center To Bridge Divide Between Disability Community, Police


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A first-of-its-kind national center is in the works with an eye toward improving interactions between individuals with developmental disabilities and law enforcement.

The Arc said it has received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to establish the new initiative which will address both victim and offender issues involving those with disabilities.

The effort comes less than a year after the death of Robert Ethan Saylor, a Maryland man with Down syndrome, at the hands of law enforcement after he refused to leave a movie theater. The incident prompted national outrage and calls for better police training and awareness.

Serving as a clearinghouse, the new center will offer a resource library, directories of attorneys, victim advocates and other experts in addition to a database of relevant state laws, organizers said. Technical assistance as well as in-person and web-based training sessions will also be offered.

Partners in the initiative will include 18 national organizations including the National Down Syndrome Society, the Autism Society, the American Bar Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association, The Arc said.

While law enforcement officers are often trained to deal with mental health issues, advocates say that individuals with developmental disabilities are a unique population.

“When individuals with (intellectual and developmental disabilities) become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “This new center will play a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with (intellectual and developmental disabilities) and the justice system.”

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Comments (8 Responses)

  1. V. Hailey says:

    Where can I find out more about this initiative?

  2. marie camp says:

    I think this is a brillant idea and I hope it spreads across everywhere. I think this type of training should be taught at other places too, it will be so useful. I think once everyone gets the training I think both parties will be very pleased.

  3. Jane Stacey-Merrill says:

    This is so desperately needed in my community. Having a child with special needs and dealing with law enforcement is especially close to my heart. My daughter felt I was being mean to her and called the police to help her with this. I had taught her that the police are there to help people. She now is extremely afraid of the police. She had never hit me, but when the police arrived and spoke to her in an extremely frightening way, she did just that. The police officer then pushed her, but then had to grab her arm to prevent her from falling. He asked her if she would like to spend some time in the county jail. He then asked me if she takes any medication. When I replied yes, he then told me to give her more!!!!! If she really did need the police for help, she would not call due to her fear of them. Not only do I feel this type of training is necessary, I feel it should be mandatory. This could many families as well as the disabled person.

  4. pat m says:

    Local police departments are getting better at working with staff when there is a problem. The big problem is individual security guards hired by businesses. They are usually alone or with only 1 other and much more uncomfortable with trying to subdue or calm down the individual. Using the concept of mirroring works so well, a kindness and smile can change the behavior of so many, and prevent the police from having to use violence to subdue.

  5. J. Hunter says:

    Bad cops need accountability, not additional training. Training is great and when taught correctly can benefit all. But it also can become a tool of stigmatization despite its best intentions.

  6. Elizabeth Brown says:

    This will be great for citizens with developmental disabilities. The problem will be for the citizens to get the benefits that are offered. So many families with developmental disabilities love ones are often left out with the agencies that is supposed to provide the necessary aide that has been allotted. You can never go on these sites and find a link that says seeking help, go to…It is always about being a donor. When seeking help for a love one, you are not interested in being a donor; you are interested in being a recipient. I will not call names, but please become aware of your practices.

  7. vickiegirty says:

    Ithink this is good and long overdue.

  8. Heather Hudson says:

    This is long overdue and so needed. My son is 10 yrs old at an age 5-7 yr old has severe Autism and has severe violent meltdowns from time to time and we have had mostly awful,horrible police experiences downright abusive actually and it’s appaling sick and needs to stop.Judgements/myths/etc.. need to stop especially from our police.

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