President Obama’s “Task Force on 21st Century Policing” released its recommendations March 2, many of which highlighted the unique problems faced by people with disabilities in interactions with law enforcement.
“Many excellent and specific suggestions emerged from these listening sessions on all facets of policing in the 21st century, but many questions arose as well,” the task force, created in response to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner protests, wrote in the report’s introduction. “Paramount among them was how to bring unity of purpose and consensus on best practices to a nation with 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies and a strong history of a preference for local control of local issues.
“It became very clear that it is time for a comprehensive and multifaceted examination of all the interrelated parts of the criminal justice system and a focused investigation into how poverty, lack of education, mental health, and other social conditions cause or intersect with criminal behavior.”
The report includes 59 specific recommendations, tackling everything from officers’ use-of-force policies, to public oversight, to community policing techniques.
Among these recommendations, the task force called on law enforcement to adopt and enforce policies eliminating profiling and discrimination based on disability. Special emphasis was placed on the importance of deescalating potentially dangerous situations.
“Paramount among the policies of law enforcement organizations are those controlling use of force,” the report stated. “Not only should there be policies for deadly and non-deadly uses of force but a clearly stated ‘sanctity of life’ philosophy should be at the forefront of every officer’s mind.”
In addition, the report called on police agencies to “adopt the use of new technologies to help them better serve people with disabilities.”
In regard to policing in schools, the report recommended that law enforcement officials work with educators to expand alternatives to student suspensions and expulsions, by reducing the use of zero tolerance policies and other such harsh measures. Studies have shown that students with disabilities are overwhelmingly more likely to be subject to such penalties than their peers.
President Obama created the task force in an executive order signed December 18, 2014. The report was assembled over 90 days, with the support of seven listening sessions around the country, as well as meeting with a variety of other interested parties.
“When any part of the American family does not feel like it is being treated fairly, that’s a problem for all of us,” President Obama said at the signing ceremony.“ It’s not just a problem for some. It’s not just a problem for a particular community or a particular demographic. It means that we are not as strong as a country as we can be. And when applied to the criminal justice system, it means we’re not as effective in fighting crime as we could be.”