By Michelle Diament
March 3, 2015
A presidential task force is encouraging police departments across the nation to be more mindful of their dealings with people who have disabilities.
In a report issued this week, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued wide-ranging recommendations aimed at improving relations between the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.
President Barack Obama created the task force in response to high profile cases last year in Missouri and New York involving the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police.
“We have a great opportunity, coming out of some great conflict and tragedy, to really transform how we think about community law enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel, rather than being embattled, feel fully supported,” Obama said of the report. “We need to seize that opportunity.”
The task force indicated that officers should only use “physical control equipment and techniques” as a last resort when interacting with people who have disabilities and other vulnerable populations including children and the elderly.
“Law enforcement agencies should carefully consider and review their policies towards these populations and adopt policies if none are in place,” the report said.
What’s more, rules should be in place to prohibit profiling and discrimination based on disability status and other factors and police should adopt technologies that will help them better serve those with special needs, the task force indicated.
Obama said he would urge current Attorney General Eric Holder and his successor at the U.S. Department of Justice to act on the panel’s recommendations.
In recent years, disability advocates have called on the Justice Department to address the need for better training to prepare police for interactions with those who have special needs. The requests were largely prompted by the 2013 death of Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down Syndrome who died after being restrained by three off-duty sheriff’s deputies when he refused to leave a Frederick, Maryland movie theater.
Holder said last year that the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service was working on developing law enforcement training focused on people with disabilities, though nothing further on the effort has been publicly released.
Read the full report here.