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.

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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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