Major Steps Toward Better Police Protection for People with Disabilities and Seniors

In a major step toward revolutionizing policing to better protect people with disabilities and older adults, Governor Newsom last week signed Assembly Bill 751 to ensure that every city police and county sheriff’s department trains and guides its officers in this often-neglected aspect of law enforcement. The Arc & UCP California Collaboration and the California Alliance for Retired Americans sponsored AB 751. Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo carried the bill for us, and it becomes law January 1.

And in a related success, the Senate Public Safety Committee passed Assembly Bill 449 a similar bill covering all law enforcement agencies’ policing of hate crimes against all victims, with particular attention to anti-disability hate crimes. The bill moves now to an uncertain fate in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must act on it by September 1. The Arc/UCP is the lead sponsor of AB 449, also backed by a wide, diverse coalition of community groups and carried by Assemblymember Phil Ting.

Why is there a need for action of this sort?

Abuse of People with Disabilities: Victims and Their Families Speak Out” (Nora Baladerian, Thomas F. Coleman and Jim Stream, Spectrum Institute Disability and Abuse Project, 2013) 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 surveyedthe number of alleged perpetrators arrested was 7.8 percent.

This study added to the findings of an earlier university research project (“Crime Victims with Disabilities Specialists Program: A Report Prepared for the California Department of Mental Health,” Valerie Jenness, University of California Irvine, and Nancy Naples, University of Connecticut, November 2003), which summarized the problem starkly:

“Across a variety of studies, the officially reported violence against persons with disabilities is simply alarming. 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.’ As such, they have historically and in the present day been systematically denied access to justice via the criminal justice system.”

AB 751, which the Legislature passed unanimously and the governor signed last week, ensures that almost every local law enforcement agency must adopt a formal Senior and Disability Victimization Policy guiding all officers. Among the many provisions of the policy are:

    • Officers must investigate every report of a major crime against an adult or child with a disability or against an adult 65 or older, except in unusual compelling circumstances as determined by a supervising officer and reported to the victim and, upon request, to Disability Rights California. No more blowing off calls.
    • If an officer has evidence of one of these major crimes, they must arrest the suspect when necessary to protect the victims or others and must seek emergency protective orders at the scene by phone to a judge on-call 24 hours a day.
    • Every officer must be trained to handle these often-difficult cases.
    • Every law enforcement agency must have an extensively trained senior and disability unit, or in smaller agencies at least one officer, to serve as a resource in these cases and act as the agency’s liaison to the senior and disability communities and other agencies. 
    • Every agency must develop a detailed checklist of first-responding officers’ responsibilities.
    • Every agency must develop its own protocols for carrying out the policy, assuring the policy works for that department.

Last week’s actions came as the state Department of Justice released its 2022 hate crime statistics, showing a more than 20 percent jump over the 2021. As usual throughout the United States, though, the data almost totally left out anti-disability hate crimes, reporting just 12 statewide. Law enforcement agencies report less than 0.4 percent of the National Crime Victimization Survey’s estimated anti-disability hate crimes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ latest report.

AB 449, our hate crime bill, takes aim at this extreme under-reporting, both by encouraging victims with disabilities and all victims to report and guiding police to recognize hate crimes when they see them.



Arc/UCP-sponsored bills aim for police culture change to better protect people with disabilities

By Greg deGiere, Civil Rights Advocate, The of California

Californians, and particularly adults and children with disabilities, are a step closer to greater protection from hate crimes and other crime and violence with the passage of three major bills in their first tests in the Legislature.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee unanimously passed these bills in the last two weeks:

  • AB 751 by Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo, which would require almost all local police and sheriff’s departments to adopt comprehensive policies guiding officers to provide much better protection to seniors and to adults and children with disabilities. The Arc/UCP and the California Alliance for Retired Americans are the bill’s sponsors.
  • AB 449 by Assemblymember Phil Ting that, likewise, would require all state and local law enforcement agencies adopt policies guiding officers to prevent, report and responds to hate crimes. This is especially important to the disability community because anti-disability hate crimes are the invisible hate crimes, rarely even reported. We lead an impressive list of sponsors and supporters of this bill.
  • AB 1064 by Assemblymember Evan Low, which would make it easier to report – and convict the perpetrators of –- hate crimes. Of particular importance to our community, the bill notes “callousness” and “a perception of the vulnerability of the victim due to the victim being perceived as being weak, worthless, or fair game because of an actual or perceived characteristic of the victim” as examples of a perpetrator’s bias that that turns a crime into a hate crime. We were instrumental in drafting and organizing support to this bill.

The bills and analyses are available by following the links above. While we can expect perhaps tougher tests of the bills ahead in the legislative process, the initial unanimous passage of these initial bills puts us in a stronger position to meet the challenges ahead.

New Bill Improves Police Protection for All People with Disabilities and Seniors

By Greg deGiere, Civil Rights Advocate, The Arc of California

In a far-reaching effort to provide much better police protection to adults and children with disabilities and older adults throughout the state, Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo has introduced AB 751, sponsored by Arc/UCP California Collaboration and the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA).

Under the bill, almost every local police and sheriff’s department in California will be required to adopt a senior and disability victimization policy guiding officers. It is aimed at nothing less than a culture change in California law enforcement. A few of its many major provisions are:

  • Mandatory police investigation of every report of a major crime against a person with a disability or older adult.
  • Mandatory arrest of suspects based on legal probable cause when necessary or advisable to protect the victims or others.
  • Mandatory training of every officer.
  • Creation of a specialized unit in each law enforcement agency with advanced training.

In 2019, after years of incremental steps to improve law enforcement protection, the Arc/UCP and CARA teamed up to sponsor and pass SB 338, the Senior and Disability Justice Act by Senator Ben Hueso. That bill spelled out the policy and encouraged – and in some, cases, mandated – law enforcement agencies to adopt it. It passed the legislature without a single dissenting vote.

Following further legislation in 2020, Senator Hueso in 2021 asked for and, in 2022, got a Legislative Counsel opinion finding that the 2020 legislation had the effect of requiring almost all local law enforcement agencies to adopt the policy. This year’s AB 751 will codify that Legislative Counsel opinion.

Engaging in an Era of Police Reform

A year ago, this week, we were all deeply saddened by the tragic death of Kenneth French. Kenneth was a young man with disabilities who was shot and killed by an off-duty officer (Sanchez) in a Costco. Officer Sanchez, of the Los Angeles Police Department, did not face criminal charges because the grand jury failed to indict him for reasons that were never made clear to the public. The LAPD was given a year to investigate whether or not Sanchez acted outside the policy of the department. Earlier this week, Chief Michel Moore, released the findings in a 30-page report that ultimately found Sanchez’s use of lethal force was Out of Policy and therefore received and Administrative Disapproval. An Administrative Disapproval is a determination made by the Police Commission and it means that the officer “substantially deviated without justification from Department policy or training.” The consequences of an Administrative Disapproval range from basically a write up in the personnel file to termination of employment.

Chief Moore issued the following statement: “Regardless of the outcome of this next chapter, I express my profound regret for what occurred to the French Family and loved ones. The decision and the actions of this officer cannot be justified and are inconsistent with the Department’s Core Values, training and expectations of every member of this organization.” There should be no question as to what the outcome of the “next chapter” is as it is clear Sanchez is not fit to be an officer. By the Chief’s own words this officer’s actions are inconsistent with the Department’s Core Values so now it is incumbent on the Chief to uphold those core values.

A young man’s life was taken – a son, a brother, a loved-one – and his parents were critically wounded. The outcry and the outrage from the disability community was loud and clear that this killing should have been recognized and prosecuted as a criminal act. The criminal justice system failed the French Family when the grand jury failed to indict the officer. The decision not to indict hurt and cut deep within the disability community as it was clear once again that members of our community did not hold the same “value” as other members of the community. There was anger, outrage, articles, protests and….and have any policies changed as a result? No.

Here we are, a year later, and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, (all within a few short months of one another) have devastated society – not just individual communities but society as a whole – and amplified the outcry and outrage of community leaders, politicians, social justice advocates, activist, and others as they continue to push for police policy reforms. Without a doubt it is way past time to reform Use of Force policies – excessive force and deadly force alike. Clearly, and all too often, excessive force results in deadly force when practices such as chokeholds, prone containments, and kneeling on a person’s neck are the go to practice in “containing a situation”. Far too often, the “situation” is a loved one with a disability, a mental illness, a young African American kid out for a jog, and so many other instances where the individual in question was, just quite simply, not a credible threat to officer or public safety.

A Use of Force policy is supposed to guide officers in circumstances that may involve substantial risk to their safety (or others) and the force used is NEVER supposed to exceed that which is “objectively reasonable”. Current Use of Force policies pose a two-part problem – the policy itself and the training/experience – that needs to be reformed. First, a bad policy is a bad policy and no amount of training or experience can change that. For example, vague policies that permit use of force to “overcome resistance” or “subdue an uncooperative subject” all but guarantee a person with autism who may be experiencing behavioral challenges will be met with some level of force. If you add some other layers to that “situation”, say the person is also deaf and African American, the chances of that interaction being resolved without use of force plummet to nearly zero. So, get rid of bad policies all together.

Second, we can legislate, mandate, regulate (and whatever else you can think of) all the training in the world, but it will be useless unless it starts with educating individuals, especially those in positions of authority, about explicit and implicit bias. Addressing these biases requires ALL OF US, not just law enforcement, to learn about and understand that attitudes and stereotypes affect our understanding, beliefs and actions in both a conscious and unconscious way. I am not suggesting, even for a second, that I understand the complexities of police policy reform or the social injustices that have been steeped so deeply in marginalized communities, but what I am suggesting is that perhaps through these painful tragedies we can learn from one another. The Arc of California appreciates the relationships we have built with law enforcement departments, district attorneys, public defenders, etc. and we welcome the opportunity to work together to address disparities and biases associated with the intellectually and developmentally disabled community.