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Disability Action Center NW

Tragedy Inspires Program Where People With Disabilities Train Police


SYKESVILLE, Md. (AP) — Maryland will be the first state to teach all law enforcement officers about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in training sessions led partly by disabled people, the chairman of a commission developing the program said.

Timothy Shriver, who also chairs the national Special Olympics, said lessons taught by those whom the program aims to serve will have more impact “because they don’t just teach it with words, they don’t just teach it with exercises, they teach it with relationships.”

Panel members met Thursday in Sykesville to begin shaping the training regimen. They plan to produce a curriculum for use in police academies and in-service training for all 17,000 veteran officers starting in 2015. The panel aims to involve people with disabilities in every lesson, either in person or through videos. “We want the training to be conducted by people with intellectual and developmental differences,” Shriver said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “To our knowledge, no state has accepted that challenge as a statewide challenge.”

Shriver’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics, and his aunt Rosemary Kennedy had an intellectual disability.

The training, mandated by the 2014 General Assembly, stems from the death in custody of a man with Down syndrome. Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, of New Market, suffered a fractured larynx and suffocated as three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies, moonlighting as mall security officers, tried to forcibly remove him from a movie theater in January 2013. They were summoned to remove Saylor because he hadn’t purchased a ticket for a repeat viewing of “Zero Dark Thirty.”  The death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury declined to indict. Amid an outcry from Saylor’s family and national Down syndrome advocates, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed a panel to make recommendations for greater inclusion of intellectually and developmentally disabled people in all aspects of society. Mandatory police training is the panel’s first goal.

The commission says California, Delaware, New Jersey, Indiana, Louisiana and New Mexico have laws requiring some or all first responders to be trained in interactions with people with intellectual and development disabilities. But Maryland would be the first to have people with disabilities as teachers in mandatory police training statewide.

The Maryland counties of Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery already offer some such training through Crisis Intervention Team programs. The programs, in place in about 2,800 police agencies nationwide, teach officers to calm excited subjects instead of automatically using force.  The CIT model was developed at the University of Memphis mainly for dealing with the mentally ill, but the same techniques work with intellectually and developmentally disabled people, said Randolph Dupont, a criminologist and clinical psychologist at the school.

Dupont said the 40-hour CIT training regimen includes a day spent with the mentally ill. He said no state to his knowledge has mandated CIT training for all law-enforcement agencies.