Casey introduces police reform targeted on interplay with individuals with disabilities | Information
US Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) tabled two bills on Wednesday after high-profile murders of black Americans by police officers and growing calls for policy changes to prevent future violence.
During a virtual roundtable discussion, Casey announced the Law Enforcement Education and Accountability for People with Disabilities (LEAD) initiative to bring about racial justice and address the high incidence of police violence among people with disabilities. The LEAD initiative consists of two bills – the Safe Interactions Act and the Human Services Emergency Logistics Program (HELP) Act – that reduce calls to 9-1-1 calling systems related to non-criminal emergencies and comprehensively law enforcement Training should be given on how to deal with people with disabilities, including people with a mental crisis.
“This problem is easy to describe, it is extremely difficult to solve,” said Casey. “We have to try. The federal government can’t just check out and hope that states and communities do it themselves. The federal government should help where we can.”
Casey noted the deaths of Walter Wallace Jr., Ricardo Munoz, and Osaze Osagie – people who needed and didn’t get help with mental crisis. The Washington Post Police Shootings Database estimates that at least 25 percent of the shootings involve a person with an intellectual disability. A 2016 report by the Ruderman Foundation estimated that between a third and a half of the 2015 shootings that involved a law enforcement officer involved a person with a disability.
The AID Act would divert non-criminal, non-fire, and non-medical emergency calls from 9-1-1 systems to state and regional 2-1-1 systems while providing resources and resources to improve the 2-1-1 referral systems . The bill would create a surveillance system for the 2-1-1 networks made up of community members representing older adults, people with disabilities, members of the ethnic and racial community, and members of other communities. The HELP Act is supported by US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Richard Blumenthal assists (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
The Safe Interactions Act would provide grants to enable nonprofit disability organizations to develop training programs that support safe interactions between law enforcement officers and people with disabilities. The training would be for both new and seasoned officers and include people with disabilities in training as instructors. It would also set up an advisory board chaired by a disabled person to oversee the development and implementation of the training program. The Safe Interactions Act is supported by US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sherrod supports Braun (D-OH).
The families who have suffered losses “should have had the benefit of a system that gives them the support they need,” Casey said. “These bills would be part of an effort to finally be on the way to solving these problems.”
Casey guest speakers included Derek S. Green, Philadelphia City Councilor; Pittsburgh Police Lt. Eric Kroll, who conducts police training; Doris Washington of Harrisburg, whose son had violent interaction with police in 1993; and Kevin Ressler, the executive director of the United Way of Lancaster County.
Green, the father of a son on the autism spectrum, said the issue was important in his city, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and across the nation.
“The challenge of raising my son and giving him instructions on how to deal with law enforcement as he will not always be with me and my wife now that he is a young adult,” said Green. “Because he deals with law enforcement, he’s not always able to articulate the challenges he’s dealing with. That kind of conversation and a more robust system helps people like my son.”
Washington became an activist in the 1990s when her autistic son was shouldered and severed in December 1993 when officers were handcuffed to the floor. She filed a lawsuit urging more training for police officers dealing with people with mental health problems.
“I am so happy and delighted that we are making some progress to improve and change this,” she said.
Kroll, the father of a 14-year-old son with autism, said Pittsburgh police had a “strong commitment” to helping people in the community, including those with special needs, through training for people with special needs. Officials often lack the services to enable other services to “warmly hand over” them.
“Police work can be very tense and sometimes evolving quickly,” he said. “Our officers need tools and training to deal with situations out there.”
Ressler described the police incident that led to the fatal shooting of Rulennis Munoz, a man with mental health problems, in September. A Lancaster policeman shot and killed Ricardo after running towards the policeman with a knife. The Lancaster District Attorney found that the shooting was justified. Ressler said Munoz had medical problems and a criminal history related to his problems.
“Our system made this moment possible because we didn’t approximate the options any better upstream,” he said.
Casey said the bills face challenges as they move forward with the Senate and House of Representatives, even in a Senate with a more even split of the party lines, but there is bipartisan support for the nature of the problem.
“We’re asking the police to do too much,” said Casey. “It’s an extremely difficult problem, but we have to try. Some days in the Senate it’s like pushing a heavy rock up a steep hill. We have to keep pushing to solve this problem.”