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Police are Often Untrained to Deal With the Mentally Disabled


When police arrive at a scene or encounter a suspect, they generally have warning signs that they look for to determine whether they are in danger. Many of those warning signs are common sense—for example, someone who waives their arms erratically or screams or moves when being told to remain stationary, may pose a risk to police.

However, according to a recent report, many police officers are not trained how to identify, and handle, those who have mental disabilities. These persons may move erratically, or fail to follow police instructions, not out of posing any harm to police, but rather because of a bona fide disability.

The Disabled are Often Victims of Police Brutality

According to one study conducted by the Washington Post, 139 people who were mentally disabled were shot and killed by police in 2018. Accurate reports of the number of police killings that involve the disabled are hard to come by. Some studies estimate that the number may be between 27%-81%–wildly varying percentages, but either way, a number that is way higher than it should be.

The report details one man who was waving a metal object around that bystanders mistook as a gun. When police arrived, they killed the man. However, the man was mentally disabled and was simply waiving a metal pipe. Making things worse, reports are that the police were familiar with the man, and knew he had mental disabilities.

Similarly, police killed a man who was in his shower. The man was having hallucinations and had splashed water on the police to see if they were really there. Police tasered the man and injected him with sedatives, killing him.

In Miami, police officers were acquitted of criminal charges when they shot and killed an aide to an autistic man, who was waving a toy truck. The aide informed officers that the man was autistic, and had his hands up. The police shot the aide, intending to shoot the autistic man.

Training for Police Falls Short

Police training not only fails to teach about handling the disabled, but may actually make encounters with the disabled worse. For example, police officers are trained to take control of a situation by loud, forceable commands, and to use batons or other non-lethal force to subdue someone who is routy. Yet, these are exactly the kinds of stimuli that can agitate people with mental disorders, escalating a situation.

Rarely are officers trained to control a situation through calm or de-escalation, and many police forces do not have mental health professionals on call to assist officers who are called to deal with those with disabilities. In many cases, police are called to scenes where mental health professionals are needed, as in the tragedies mentioned above, where the disabled in fact presented no threat to officers or anyone else.

Have you been a victim of police misconduct, excessive force, or brutality? Contact the Alabama police misconduct attorneys at Lasseter Law Firm today to discuss whether you have a cause of action for damages.


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