Major Step to Change Law Enforcement Practices to Protect I/DD People

Unity Brings Quick Action On Hate Crimes

Are you a member of the intellectual and developmental disability community and have experienced abuse or other serious crime?

Were you dissatisfied with the criminal justice system’s response, if any?

A major bill introduced last week should finally change that.

It is SB 1108 by Senator Ben Hueso from San Diego, sponsored by The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration and the California Alliance for Retired Americans.

A national study surveyed victims with disabilities and their families. Of the cases where victims reported the abuse to authorities, 52.9 percent said that nothing happened. According to the victims and family members surveyed, the number of alleged perpetrators arrested was 7.8 percent.

These shocking numbers are consistent with California research. One university report (Crime Victims with Disabilities Specialists Program: A Report Prepared for the California Department of Mental Health, University of California Irvine and University of Connecticut, 2003) stated the problem starkly:

“Across a variety of studies, the officially reported violence against persons with disabilities is simply alarming (Petersilia 2001).

“Moreover, the evidence suggests that officially reported violence against people with disabilities and criminal victimization of people with disabilities more generally is merely the tip of the iceberg as most violence against people with disabilities goes unreported. Lack of reporting occurs for a variety of reasons, including that the criminal justice system cannot–or will not–serve those with disabilities. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to refer to people with disabilities who are victimized as ‘invisible victims’ (Sorenson 1997).

“As such, they have historically and in the present day been systematically denied access to justice via the criminal justice system (Petersilia 2003; Tysla 1998).”

The same California report found “numerous challenges” including:

– “Quite often there is a failure to pursue cases perceived to lack a credible victim (i.e., a victim with certain kinds of disabilities).”

– “Cases are dropped due to mistakes that occur during the investigation process.”

– “Cases are not investigated due to concerns over jurisdictional issues.”

– “Care facilities often deal with these types of crimes internally and may not create a safer environment for the victims who are often revictimized by other clients.”

By allying with the older adult community, we hope to have enough political muscle to pass this tough bill. Voters statewide believe that “increase prevention of elder abuse – both physical and financial” is the highest-priority goal for the Master Plan for Aging, now being developed.

If enacted, SB 1108 will mandate that all local law enforcement agencies adopt senior and disability victimization policies as spelled out in Senator Hueso’s SB 338, also sponsored by The Arc/UCP and CARA, which passed the Legislature unanimously last year. Key provisions of this existing law include full, mandatory investigations of all reports of these crimes and mandatory arrests based on probable cause (with limited, reasonable exceptions), mandatory training of all officers, advanced training of specialists in every agency, and outreach to the senior and disability communities to encourage crime reporting and cooperation with law enforcement.

It will mandate that every county develop a cooperative, interdisciplinary agreement among law enforcement agencies, adult and child protective service agencies, and other responsible agencies, such as San Diego County has done.

It will provide for accountability by requiring law enforcement agency reporting to the Department of Justice, the Calfiornia Commission on Aging, and the state protection and advocacy agency (Disability Rights California) and requiring the Department of Justice to report to the Legislature and the public.

And it will provide for collection of reliable data on the problem, now sorely lacking, to guide future decision-makers and the public.

The bill arises from a letter that 20 senior and disability groups and allies – led by The Arc – submitted to the Newsom administration officials developing the Master Plan on Aging, for the first time spelling out the beginning of a comprehensive plan to attack senior and disability victimization.

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