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Justice Department Developing Disability Training For Police


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Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is developing law enforcement training focused on people with cognitive disabilities. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is developing law enforcement training focused on people with cognitive disabilities. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Plans are in the works at the U.S. Department of Justice to roll out law enforcement training focused on people with disabilities.

The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service — a division that steps in to help communities address tension stemming from civil rights issues — is currently working on the effort, Attorney General Eric Holder said.

The move follows the introduction of a similar training program in March designed to address law enforcement relations with the transgender community.

“Earlier this year, you launched a groundbreaking transgender law enforcement cultural professionalism training. And I know a similar training initiative, focused on the needs of individuals with cognitive disabilities, is being developed as we speak,” Holder said at a gathering of the Community Relations Service last week.

Justice Department officials did not provide details about the plans. Holder’s comments, however, come over a year after disability advocates called on the federal agency to address the need for better police training.

Advocates from the National Down Syndrome Society, the National Down Syndrome Congress and a handful of other groups made the request during a meeting with officials from the Community Relations Service in March 2013 following the death of Robert Ethan Saylor. The 26-year-old with Down syndrome died earlier that year after being restrained by three off-duty sheriff’s deputies when he refused to leave a Frederick, Md. movie theater.

At the time, officials with the Justice Department did not make any promises, but said they were monitoring the situation surrounding Saylor’s death and indicated that they might provide training or other assistance.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. Marcie Perry says:

    I am so grateful that something has been learned by Ethan’s Death. Mom Patti & Ethan’s siblings continue to work hard to educate the world of our wonderful people! Ethan, you are guiding all in the right direction. Thank You.

  2. Sharon Conrad says:

    I’m thrilled this is going to happen and I hope very soon!! My son has a cognitive disability and hit an officer after the officer told him to stop and he didn’t, the officer grabbed him by the hoodie and that’s when my son hit him.He was inside his group home when this happened. He was arrested and charged with a class X felony. We are still in court trying to resolve this!!! Any suggestions would be welcomed! Thank you!

  3. Jill Campbell-Brown says:

    This definitely needs to be done-training on our individuals. Diagnosis training would be a big positive. Mental Health training also , so you now what you are walking into. At least the negotiator needs to have studied all of the above, to be able to inform other fellow officers.

  4. Karen says:

    I’m a disabled American. I think disabled Americans should audit the training, if they want to work for justice.

  5. Cindy Syx says:

    I think it is sad that it takes this kind of a tragedy for the Justice Dept. to act in the first place. Shameful, wake up and smell the coffee!!! There needs to be an overhaul in Washington!

  6. Terri says:

    This is a long overdue training for police officers. It not only gives them a heads up or some insight on how to handle a situation, but, it also give the people with disabilities better communication with the officers as they get to know the ones in their patrol area. This is especially true for the liaison officers in the school system where students with disabilities are mainstreamed in with “regular” students. My daughter who was 12 at the time,was in middle school and wanted to follow her teacher down the stairs, she did not mean to push the teacher ( the teacher did not fall or get hurt), she just wanted to stay with her. A liaison officer saw what happened, and without questions, forced her on her stomach in the hallway, put his knees in her back and handcuffed her, she was then put in a timeout closet with lights off and door closed. Had there been proper training, this whole situation could have been diffused. I applaud police officers for all they do, but, more can be done for our special needs. Thank you

  7. Tim LaPlant says:

    I hope the police department in Manchester, Connecticut will be part of the training.

  8. Pat Kelln says:

    Interesting, the Office for Victims of Crime developed a program in 2002 for law enforcement with excellent Training Materials, including a DVD titled Victims with Disabilities Collaborative, Multidisciplinary First Response Techniques for First Responders Called to Help Crime Victims Who have Disabilities which I (a woman with a disability) thought was excellent. With some states, Washington state comes to mind banning the use of the term people with disabilities, as compounding injustice by labeling us the initial program was expanded to include victims of domestic violence, racism, etc. etc.

  9. maria scholnick says:

    Yeah! I’m so happy this is going to happen. I have a daughter with special needs and it is concerning how law enforcement representatives, be head of departments, officers do not have awareness and skills on disability issues. Officers in border towns in the US do not know about ADA. Lets educate law enforcement in the US all the way on disability arena, it will protect the rights, value and lives of our children, neighbors, and citizen with special needs.

  10. A says:

    As a former law enforcement (LE) officer and a parent with Special Needs children I appreciate and welcome the unique training opportunity that the DOJ is providing to LE in order to protect our children and disabled adults. Please remember that your average LE officer is trained to evaluate situations when they arrive on the scene, unless they are provided specific information about individuals prior to their arrival, and to serve, protect the public and property. They may only have a few seconds to make that judgement call to determine if they need to act. I have observed many instances where LE officers have acted without the “full story” resulting in arrest or the lack of action to protect someone. Regardless, LE officers need to held accountable, by their leadership, to follow current policies and procedures. We (the disabled community) need to help our local LE and to interact with them in mutual support, even if this disability training does or does not go into effect, to better understand how to prevent future misunderstandings.

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