Report urges police to improve training and communication with Austinites with disabilities

A new report based on feedback from residents with disabilities calls on the Austin Police Department to improve its training and practices regarding interactions with residents with mental health issues, hearing loss or other disabilities.

The report comes from the Police Oversight Bureau, which reviews police activities and acts as an advocate for residents to file complaints about the department. In six findings and other follow-up recommendations, the report highlights the issues faced by residents with disabilities in recent years and pushes the department to improve engagement with these communities, including students with disabilities of color who have experiences. disproportionately poor with the police.

The report’s findings come from a May community forum that included 42 community members working with city staff and officials. Forum participants examined why interactions with police officers tend to make residents with disabilities feel unsafe and explored ways in which APD can modify its practices to improve these interactions.

Among the findings was the view that current police practices are not favorable to people with disabilities and that those with physical or psychological disabilities are considered dangerous, which may increase the risk of hostility from the police. .

The report says the department needs to devote more training resources to improving communication and community engagement with residents with disabilities, to increase officers’ understanding of the lived experiences of people with physical health issues. and mental.

This awareness was also seen to have a strong impact on the outcome of an agent’s interaction with a person with a disability, with those showing empathy and understanding having better results than those who were disrespectful and reluctant to adapt to a disability.

Feedback from the session, which is to be held regularly in the future, also showed that consideration should be given to the impact of a person’s disability, race and socioeconomic status on their quality of life and his impression of the police. This was especially true for disabled students of color, who may experience increased racism and other trauma at higher rates than able-bodied white students.

The final conclusion of the report was that training on mental health issues is a particular area of ​​need for the department, with a high level of negative impacts for residents resulting from a lack of understanding and support resources for those who suffer from poor mental health.

The report will soon be presented to city council and will serve as the basis for another public meeting to be held next year.

The Office of Police Oversight chose to schedule town hall after making a presentation last summer to the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. This presentation focused largely on findings from data on shootings involving police officers in recent years, with some attention paid to the role of mental health issues in these incidents.

Committee members responded by criticizing office staff for not having detailed data on police interactions with residents with disabilities, and urged staff to become more involved in advocating for people with disabilities.

“You are one of the many city departments that came to the Disability Committee without really touching on or highlighting disability issues. Without removing this issue and discussing it when it is the purpose of this committee, again, it appears that equity does not include people with disabilities, ”said Deborah Trejo, committee member, at the meeting. last July. “You spoke exclusively about what I heard about mental health as an area of ​​concern to you, but I didn’t hear you expressing concern about people with disabilities. “

The report for the local disabled community is the latest release from the Police Oversight Bureau seeking to improve ODA, following last week’s announcement that it has asked the department to review more than 200 complaints. linked to widespread protests against police violence in Austin last summer. .

Photo by Edward Kimmel from Takoma Park, MD, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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