The House of Representatives today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend to train police to recognize and respond appropriately in situations involving individuals with cognitive or communication-related disabilities.
The legislation (2023-H 5185) would require the Police Officers Commission on Standards and Training to provide instruction for police officers in identifying, responding to, handling, investigating and reporting all incidents involving victims, witnesses, or suspects with cognitive or communication-related disabilities and to develop guidelines for law enforcement responses to incidents involving such persons. Among the bill’s requirements is that police to be trained on safely de-escalating crisis situations involving such individuals, and be given information on initiating timely referrals to resources available in the community.
“It is extremely important for everyone’s safety that police know how to respond to calls involving someone with a cognitive or communications disability. Some individuals with these conditions can become overwhelmed or panicked in emergencies or when confronted, and that can escalate a situation and result in misunderstandings and tragedies. In situations where the person is a witness, police need to know how to respond in the most constructive way for the benefit of the investigation. Sometimes a disability or an inability to clearly communicate can be misinterpreted as suspicious or criminal behavior, or as deliberate refusal to cooperate. There are also times when the person who calls the police has already misunderstood a disability for a suspicious activity, and if the police are given that information and aren’t well equipped to recognize the difference, the individual can be in serious danger,” said Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown). “Police encounters with members of the disabled community are extremely common, so police training should absolutely include information to help them in these situations. Disabled Rhode Islanders deserve to be understood and be safe, and police deserve to be better equipped to help and protect them.”
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