The JJs List Blog

People With Disabilities Are Not Recognized by Police

Posted by on August 27, 2014 - 3 Comments


Complaints about police brutality have gotten more and more press in recent years. Thanks to social media and the prevalence of cameras, it’s easy to capture these moments. Police ineptness has also played a role in these incidents. But in recent years, there are other cases of police brutality that are getting attention, and that is the killing of people with disabilities by police. And this needs to change, badly.

In 2012, a study by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram newspapers found that “about half of the 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year in this country are mentally ill.” Other studies, including one by New Mexico Public Defender Department found that the numbers could be as high as 75 percent in 2010 and 2011.

The problem seems to come from the officers’ inability to tell the difference between someone with a mental health disability and a potentially dangerous suspect. David Perry and Lawrence Carter-Long have compiled a list of such cases, including people with physical disabilities.

One such case was of Ernest Griglen, whom police assumed to be intoxicated and dragged him out of his car. He had diabetes and was going through insulin shock. In the same Perry and Long article, it’s mentioned that people with diabetes are often assumed to be drunk. In 2010, Garry Palmer struck a dog while driving home, but was arrested for drunk driving. He had cerebral palsy.

Some police officers tend to think that the suspect is a mentally or physically healthy individual making a conscious choice. Unfortunately, in many cases with people with mental health disabilities, this is not the case. Due to a lack of understanding, their resistance is seen the wrong way. We saw this in the case of Ethan Saylor, a man with Down syndrome who was crushed by police after refusing to leave the movie theater he was in.

Saylor’s aide was present and his mother was on her way. Such an incident should not have occurred. Unfortunately it did, but the disability community rallied around Saylor’s death and lobbied for new law enforcement training to better handle these types of situations.

And that’s what’s needed all around. A variety of solutions, ranging from better community policing to more integrated mental health disability programs and accommodations. Perry and Carter-Long advocated for increased funding to the Crisis Intervention Teams and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act. In the wake of Saylor’s death, Maryland governor Martin O’Malley created a statewide commission that developed standardized training programs to handle suspects with mental illness and disabilities.

Sadly, these programs can’t erase the hundreds of people killed by police who have mental health disabilities. What they can do, however, is ensure that police are better prepared to understand when a person has a mental health disability. We hope that these programs and better training can reduce these numbers.

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About The Author

This article was written by our Intern Paul.


Leah says:
Aug 28, 2014

I understand that the police has a hard time understanding between mental health disability and a dangerous suspect. It’s hard for them but I hope they will get a lesson between health disability and a dangerous suspect soon in the future. I really interested of this article nice blog.

Stephen M says:
Oct 11, 2015

It’s sad for the hundreds of people that have disabilities to go threw situations like this one…I do agree that law enforcement need proper training to identify a actual perp an some one with a disability that’s just acting out of character

Abegail J. Stahr says:
Jul 12, 2016

WTH is Police officers problems are for neglecting people with disabilities. That is one thing abusing one person with no disabilities is one thing which I do not like but abusing a person with disabilities is out of line.

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