In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between police and autistic people. Police officers need training to respond appropriately. When they do not -- as recent events have shown -- things get out of hand.
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) at The Hill:
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), police have become first responders for non-criminal complaints, such as people experiencing mental health crises. In addition, a recent report from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that compared with the general public, people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violent crimes. When these interactions occur, they are more likely to turn violent. Data from the Ruderman Family Foundation found that people with disabilities made up between one-third and one-half of all individuals shot by law enforcement officers in 2015.
The demands on law enforcement are great. As the International Association of Chiefs of Police has said, when it comes to mental health crises, police have become the first responders. Many interactions between law enforcement and people with mental health and other disabilities such as autism, deafness, intellectual disabilities, have ended in serious injuries and deaths. The Washington Post reports that over 26 percent of police shootings since 2015 have involved people with mental health disabilities.
It is time to relieve law enforcement of the responsibility of responding to non-criminal emergencies and to reduce the interactions between police and people with disabilities. And, when necessary, we need to provide law enforcement officers with the skills necessary to have safe, effective interactions with people with disabilities.
That is why I have reintroduced two bills as part of my Law Enforcement Education and Accountability for People with Disabilities (LEAD) Initiative. One bill, the Human-services Emergency Program (HELP) Act, will divert non-criminal emergency calls away from 9-1-1 to agencies designed to address human service needs, such as the 2-1-1 system, and mental health needs, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which will become the 9-8-8 three digit national call number in July 2022. The second bill, the Safe Interactions Act, will provide funding to train and educate new and veteran law enforcement officers about best practices to interact with and support people with disabilities. The training would be developed and implemented by people with disabilities who can speak from their lived experiences. A broad coalition of organizations has endorsed these bills, including ading national disability advocacy organizations such as the Autism Society of America, the Arc of the United States and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. Support has also been secured by civil rights organizations such as the Center for American Progress and the Public Interest Law Center and national organizations representing law enforcement officers including the Fraternal Order of Police.