Reimagining Community Safety, Policing and the Future of Criminal Justice Reform

The impact of key events over the past five to six months is causing many in the disability and criminal justice community to think more creatively than ever before about ways to continue our work successfully. We are living in uncertain times and must put our best foot forward to meet current and anticipated challenges in the future. At The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, we have been responding to the following key issues as we seek ways to consider our role and further our mission to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) within the criminal justice system, both nationally and internationally.

The immediate and long-term impact of COVID-19

While NCCJD’s Pathways to Justice has reached over 2,000 people in 14 states over the past five years, the pandemic has put a pause on training efforts since it is provided in-person only (this is by design in order to bring the community together from different professional groups and allow for one-on-one interactions between criminal justice professionals and people with I/DD). As many others are doing post-COVID, we are considering what future training could look like. For example, how can we provide effective online training that is also engaging by using a hybrid approach of combining both online and in-person training? How can we incorporate virtual reality technology that could create a more realistic and memorable learning experience for trainees? We are also working on a project funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance to infuse I/DD throughout an online national law enforcement training curriculum that has traditionally focused on mental health disabilities (similar to Crisis Intervention Team training). The hope is that this will allow current and future CIT-trained officers to have a deeper understanding about I/DD, while also building their confidence and skill level when working with this population.

Addressing the impact of racism within policing and its impact on people with I/DD

In response to the killing of George Floyd, The Arc issued a statement advocating that we (as a disability community) must stand with those taking action against systemic racism because too often members of marginalized communities are devalued and neglected. The statement encouraged members of The Arc to “step up and speak out…to uphold the rights of communities of color to be free from over policing, police brutality, misconduct, harassment and racism.” Before the tragic death of Mr. Floyd, NCCJD had been working to address these issues head on through webinars and training. Through the Pathways to Justice training, we are committed to educating officers, attorneys, victim advocates and others about intersectionality and the sometimes deadly consequences faced by those who have a disability and are marginalized in other ways.

According to one report, almost half of the people killed by police have some kind of disability. One research article found that youth with disabilities are 13% more likely to be arrested than those without disabilities, and that figure jumps to 17% for Black youth with disabilities. In 2017 NCCJD hosted the webinar “Policing & People with Disabilities: The Intersection of Race, Disability and Policing” which delved deeply into intersections that can create discrimination and violence toward people with I/DD in the criminal justice system and explored innovative programs and potential solutions from around the country. We’ve also authored and edited publications like this one that highlights the story of a Black family worried about the safety of their child with autism and respond to media inquiries related to multiply marginalized groups, such as this story in TIME Magazine.

NCCJD has worked closely with partner organizations over the past two years on a project that seeks to end violence in the lives of people with disabilities, with a focus on victims who are multiply marginalized and are the least likely to access services, support and healing. We are also considering ways to deepen our own understanding of these issues, considering who to partner with to support the work of anti-racism organizations and ensuring that the lens of intersectionality is applied throughout all of the center’s work.

Reimagining community safety and the role of police

As part of the reimagining process of the Center, we are considering how to be an effective ally in the movement to reform policing and the criminal/legal justice system. One key aspect is partnering with other rights-based agencies, such as racial justice advocates and organizations, to ensure that people living at the intersection of disability and other marginalized identities have a platform to be heard within criminal justice reform movements. We are also working within an international “Access to Justice” Knowledge Hub supported by Open Society Foundations to conduct a review of promising practices and strategies that support public safety, with or without police involvement. Throughout the one-year project, we will seek guidance and input from people with disabilities and other marginalized communities while reimagining policing and considering how to effectively serve those currently involved in ineffective and oppressive systems of “justice.” Some key questions we are asking include: How do people with disabilities and those in marginalized communities perceive safety? What do they need to feel safe? How do they define safety? An in-depth review of these promising practices is critical and will reveal key information that can direct future work. This timely and in-depth discourse with other countries doing similar work in disability and criminal justice issues will spark new ideas and conversations that have the potential to redefine current assumptions about how criminal justice processes should work, and ways to prioritize prevention efforts that could impact international disability and criminal justice-related policy and practice. It’s a relief that none of us must face these challenges alone. There is true power to change broken systems when we come together to create shared vision. While overwhelming at first, it can also reveal new opportunities to dream bigger than ever before when it comes to criminal justice reform. What are you as an individual or what is your organization currently facing related to these challenges? Feel free to reach out to me at LDavis@thearc.org with ideas or questions. I look forward to hearing from you!

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

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.

The Arc of California Responds To the Decision Not To Indict Officer Who Killed Kenneth French at a Costco

On June 14, 2019 Kenneth French, a young man with disabilities, was shot and killed by an off-duty LAPD officer while shopping with his family at a Costco in Corona, California. His parents were also shot and wounded in the altercation. After several months of investigation, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office made an announcement on September 25, 2019 that they declined to bring charges against Officer Sanchez stating that a Riverside County grand jury decided that criminal charges against the officer were not warranted.

Given the information that is known to the public, the failure to indict Officer Sanchez on criminal charges raises several questions and concerns for the disability community. Among the most pressing of the concerns is the immediate use of deadly force within a few seconds of an initial altercation with Kenneth. Causing additional concern is the statement made by the officer’s attorney that the officer had “no choice but to use deadly force”. That this is somehow the only choice, when Kenneth was unarmed and his parents were reportedly telling the officer that their son has a disability and begging the officer not to shoot, is absurdity. Without accountability, this tragedy reconfirms a message our community hears far too often: that this behavior is acceptable and excusable because it was a person with a disability who did not “respond” appropriately. We cannot continue to lose members of our community as a result of the criminalization of disability.

The statistics are frightening as they relate to the high rate of fatal encounters between law enforcement and people with disabilities. Some statistics suggest that between one third and one half of fatal law enforcement encounters involve a person with a disability. Regardless of disability type – intellectual, developmental, physical or mental health – people have a right to be in the community without fear of being shot because they cannot or do not respond to law enforcement in a certain or expected manner. Kenneth’s death is a senseless tragedy that magnifies the troubling divide between the disability community and law enforcement as well as the urgent need for officer training related to disability and the use of de-escalation techniques.

The Arc of California has made it a priority to build relationships with the law enforcement community, including promoting The Arc’s Pathways To Justice initiative, and sponsoring SB 338, which was signed into law with support from the law enforcement community and will create a detailed plan for law enforcement to prevent and respond to victimization of people with disabilities. We know that the acts of a few do not represent the whole, which is why we hope law enforcement agencies throughout the state will equally reach out to The Arc and other disability organizations to learn more about our community and how we can work together to make the community safer for people with all types of disabilities. Our deepest condolences to the French Family.

Big Advance for the Safety of People with Disabilities

Our bill to begin to revolutionize law enforcement agencies’ response to major crimes against people with disabilities is on Governor Newsom’s desk for signature.

Senator Ben Hueso’s Senate Bill 338 [http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB338] passed the entire legislative process without a single “no” vote.

It calls on local police and sheriff’s departments to adopted tough, detailed policies prioritizing enforcement of laws protecting adults and children with disabilities, and all seniors, from abuse and neglect, sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, anti-disability hate crimes, and homicide.

The new policies would require officer training in handling these sometimes-difficult cases, investigation of every report, and mandatory arrests and emergency protective orders.

It’s called the Senior and Disability Justice Act and is sponsored by the California Alliance for Retired Americas, the McGeorge Law School’s Elder Law Clinic, and the Arc & United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration.

By allying with the senior groups and putting seniors first in the bill’s name and in advocacy efforts, we assured much wider support than we could have gotten with a disability-only bill. Politicians like to be seen doing things for seniors because there are so many of them and they vote.

The next steps are to ask Governor Newsom to sign the bill, and then for the Commission on Peace Officer Standard and training to develop a strong model policy based on the bill for local law enforcement agencies to adopt.

Here’s a link to our letter to Newsom asking for his signature.

 

Our “Senior and Disability Justice Act” Clears First Hurdle

Our bill to refocus law enforcement agencies’ efforts to better protect adults and children with disabilities and also senior citizens from abuse, neglect, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes and homicide passed the Senate Public Safety Committee 7-0 last week.

That’s great news, but don’t expect the rest of the legislative process to be as easy. A bill as comprehensive and far-reaching as this one doesn’t get through the Legislature without a fight.

The Arc-UCP, the Elder Health Law Clinic of McGeorge Law School, and the California Alliance for Retired Americans are the sponsors of Senate Bill 338, introduced by Senator Ben Hueso. By allying with the senior groups and being careful to cover seniors and well as people with disabilities, we’ve multiplied the power of the coalition behind the bill.

SB 338, the Senior and Disability Justice Act, lists for the first time in one place all the existing laws that give police and sheriff’ departments responsibilities for protecting people with disabilities and seniors.

It requires every local law enforcement agency that adopts or amends an elder and “dependent adults” abuse policy – over time, virtually every police and sheriff’s department in the state – to adopt the specifics of a model policy on the broad subject of senior and disability victimization that the bill spells out.

It requires an investigation of every report of abuse, neglect, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes and homicides of people with disabilities and seniors.

It requires officers to get emergency protective orders immediately when necessary to protect the victims.

It requires extensive officer training.

And it holds law enforcement agencies and officers accountable for carrying out the laws and the policy.

The bill goes next to the full Senate, where we can expect little or no problem. The problems will come when it clears the Senate and moves to the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Stay tuned.