Public Input / Racial and Disability Equity in Policing

Press Statement
For Immediate Release

Posted: September 15, 2020

Racial Equity in Policing Commission
Salt Lake City

Dear Commission Members,

The Disability Law Center (DLC) is Utah’s designated Protection and Advocacy Agency (P&A), and we seek to protect and expand the legal rights of Utahns with disabilities. As a civil rights organization fighting for systemic change, we wanted to reach out to the Commission to discuss the intersection of race and disability in dealing with law enforcement.

While we fully recognize you are looking at racial equity specifically, and we certainly have no desire to distract from this crucial conversation, we do believe disability is an important part of the discussion. There is no clearer example than the tragic shooting of Linden Cameron a couple weeks ago, but this is certainly not the only example in Utah (or elsewhere).[i] This horrific event shines a light on many of the risks people with disabilities face when interacting with law enforcement.

Even though there’s no solid data, based on media reports between 2013-15, it is estimated at least 1/3-1/2 of all those killed by law enforcement had a disability.[ii] Some put it even higher, at 60-80%.[iii] The Harriet Tubman Collective names 18 victims and the Deaf & Disabled Margin of Police Brutality Project shares 5 of their stories through video vignettes, several of which focus on people of color.[iv]

Perhaps these sobering numbers are at least partially a consequence of police averaging a combined 16 hours of de-escalation and crisis intervention training compared to 56 hours of firearms training nationally.[v] Additionally, individuals with disabilities make up only 12% of the student population, but account for 25% of all arrests.[vi] Almost ¾ of youth involved in juvenile justice systems have mental health conditions.[vii]

What choices do we have when responding to a system designed and built to produce results so far from most of our communities’ desires and expectations? In the short-term, reforming law enforcement; in the long term, reimagining public safety. We shared some thoughts on comprehensive reform with the Mayor and the City Council, and now we want to share them with you.

From our perspective, the broad outline of a comprehensive reform agenda must:

  • Allow use of force only as a last resort after exhausting all other reasonable options; establish a duty to intervene; ban the use of force as a punitive measure or means of retaliation against individuals who only verbally confront officers, or against individuals who pose a danger only to themselves; and require all officers to accurately report all uses of force;
  • Prohibit all maneuvers that restrict the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain, including neck holds, chokeholds, and similar excessive force;
  • Prohibit racial profiling and require robust data collection on police-community encounters and law enforcement activities. Data should capture all demographic categories and be disaggregated;
  • Not allow the police to purchase military equipment;
  • Prohibit the use of no-knock warrants, especially for drug searches;
  • End the qualified immunity doctrine which prevents police from being held legally accountable when they break the law;
  • Decriminalize activities which do not put public health or safety at risk, especially those that disproportionately affect black communities or individuals who are homeless or have mental health and/or substance use disorders;
  • Establish empowered and effective civilian oversight structures, and incorporate their feedback into policies and practices, including the training of law enforcement officers in interacting with people with disabilities;
  • Ensure officers reflect the communities they serve;
  • Invest in rigorous, regular, and sustained training on de-escalation techniques, as well as a variety of conditions and disabilities, including, but not limited to, mental illness, deafness, autism, traumatic brain injury, and how they are likely to appear or influence an individual’s behavior under stress;
  • Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) should use best practices and be available in every community statewide. Officers trained in these techniques must be dispatched and work collaboratively with behavioral health crisis responders when possible;
  • Increase diversionary programs, e.g., assertive community treatment teams, mobile crisis outreach, treatment courts, etc.;
  • There must be clear, consistent, and timely relay of relevant information from dispatch to responding officers;
  • Limit fines and fees for low-income individuals;
  • Require the department to cover the cost of misconduct; and
  • Urge Salt Lake City School District to commit to counselors and restorative justice rather than school resource officers.

For more detail on these approaches in practice, please see the Leadership Conference on Civil
and Human Rights [viii] and Campaign Zero. [ix]

In the long run, if we want a different outcome, we need a different model. We can no longer afford to depend on police to combat the results of poverty. Instead, we must invest our resources in rooting out its causes: lack of education, lack of economic opportunity, lack of affordable housing and healthcare, lack of transportation, lack of mental health and substance use disorder treatment, barriers to reentry from jail or prison, and domestic violence, among others. Even though the challenge seems daunting, and it is certainly not going to happen overnight. MPD 150 highlights other cities and states that are already moving along this path. [x]

The DLC would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to ask the Commission to consider Utahns with disabilities when discussing any reform proposals. The fight to end police brutality is an important step, and a reallocation of money from law enforcement would help. However, strengthening our communities and the safety net which supports them would be a huge leap toward dismantling a system that has been self-perpetuating for far too long. The simple fact that The Disability Law Center (DLC) is a private, non-profit organization. The DLC’s mission is to enforce and strengthen laws that protect the opportunities, choices, and legal rights of Utahns with disabilities. Our services are available statewide and free of charge, regardless of income, legal status, language, or place of residence. Because our time and money are limited, the DLC focuses on cases that can help as many Utahns with disabilities as possible now and in the future. While we cannot assist everyone, we will at least offer all those who contact us information and/or referral options. Linden Cameron’s mom had nowhere to turn, other than police, is a failure of leadership to ensure the health and safety of all Utahns.

We urge you to look for ways to help us change the system by helping to build the city’s residents up. Thank you for your time and consideration of the Disability Law Center’s contribution to this most critical conversation. If you have questions or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Nate Crippes / Legislative & Policy Counsel
Andrew Riggle / Public Policy Advocate
(801) 363-1347 / (800) 662-9080