NCD Letter to Attorney General Sessions about Police Interactions with People with Disabilities

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September 28, 2017

The Honorable Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III
Attorney General of the United States
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Attorney General,

I write to you on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency charged with providing advice and recommendations regarding disability policy to the President, Congress, and other federal agencies, to offer advice to your agency regarding law enforcement interactions with people with disabilities, and to request a meeting to discuss this matter further.

NCD acknowledges and is grateful for the service of law enforcement officers across this nation in securing communities and in many instances, helping people with disabilities obtain justice as victims of crimes. However, there is a history of law enforcement misunderstanding of people with disabilities that has many times led to tragedy and loss of life. Just this week, a lack of understanding of people with disabilities led again to a tragic outcome, this time in Oklahoma City on September 20 when local law enforcement officers fatally shot Magdiel Sanchez. Mr. Sanchez is believed to have been deaf, have had a developmental disability, did not speak, and expressed himself through hand gestures. Mr. Sanchez, who reportedly carried a pipe to ward off stray dogs during his neighborhood walks, was shot and killed by law enforcement officers investigating a hit and run and whom reportedly did not hear witnesses inform them that Sanchez was deaf and thus could not hear law enforcement commands. The Sanchez shooting is the most recent in a history of police shootings that involve misunderstanding related to individuals with disabilities.

NCD would like to offer its resources and expertise to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in convening representatives from the disability community to work with your department in the development of better, more thorough guidelines for those in the law enforcement community not yet availing themselves of crucial programs that improve upon interactions with members of the disability community. As an advisory body to DOJ, NCD offers the following four recommendations to achieve better outcomes nationally regarding police interactions with the disability community:

  1. DOJ should collect and analyze national statistics in determining problem areas of excessive force being used against individuals with disabilities, by type of disability, race, type of force, and location. The collection of this data is vital to identifying geographic areas that would benefit the most from increased disability awareness training, as well as accountability programs. DOJ should make the collection of this subcategorized data a priority, to the extent that it does not already do so.
  2. DOJ should continue to encourage and devote more resources to robust, specialized crisis intervention training (CIT) of law enforcement personnel – a minimum of 40 hours – that covers field evaluation, suicide intervention, community mental health resources, crisis de-escalation, and scenario-based exercises. Dispatchers should also receive CIT as a means of identifying when calls may involve individuals in mental health crisis so that specialized CIT officers can be called to assist. While this most recent incident does not appear to have involved a mental health crisis, this training can be crucial to obtaining better outcomes for those situations that do involve a mental health disability.[1]
  3. DOJ should continue to support and devote more resources to increased accountability of law enforcement personnel, including effective and transparent oversight measures, such as the appointment of civilian oversight committees.
  4. DOJ should enforce existing consent decrees. Existing consent decrees typically involve programs that facilitate first responders’ ability to recognize when an individual may have a disability. These programs assist in cultivating first responders’ understanding that a person may not understand commands or can comply with them, and to deescalate rather than escalate a potentially violent situation.

We respectfully request a meeting with your staff to engage in further dialogue on this topic, to assist in the convening of stakeholders from the disability community and representatives of DOJ, and to discuss the information and perspectives of DOJ on this matter. Thank you for your time and consideration of this issue. Please contact Amged M. Soliman, NCD Attorney Advisor, at asoliman@ncd.gov or 202-272-2116, to arrange a time to meet. We look forward to further discussion on this matter.

Sincerely,

Benro Ogunyipe
Vice Chair, National Council on Disability




[1] Seattle Police Department, “2015 Crisis Intervention Program Report,” (2015): 18.