When members of the disability community and law enforcement meet during a crisis, the situation can escalate quickly. In a continuing effort to educate law enforcement on how to best serve the disability community, the Paxton Campus and Disability Response Team teamed up with the National Center on Criminal Justice to provide a day-long Pathways to Justice training May 23 to all types of criminal justice professionals.
“The key is training and education,” Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus Executive Director Melissa Heifetz said.
The Paxton Campus, a Leesburg-based nonprofit that serves and advocates for the disabled community, has an ongoing partnership and program that educates law enforcement officers on how to identify people with disabilities and how to de-escalate situations. Now, the Pathways to Justice training extends this education to lawyers, victim’s advocates, and victim service providers.
“Somebody with autism might not respond to a command. It’s not because they’re being defiant, it’s because they don’t process the command that is being given,” Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman said during his opening remarks at the training.
“So it’s important for us and our deputies to know when we’re engaged out there in the field, that we have enough information and training that allows us to recognize these kinds of things so we don’t act too hastily in situations that don’t really require us to act that way.”
Chapman’s wife has a sibling with schizophrenia, so when Chapman was running for office the first time, she urged him to improve crisis intervention training (CIT) should he become sheriff. When he was elected, his original goal was to have 25 percent of deputies trained in crisis intervention. Now, five and a half years later, 70 percent are trained.
Part of the deputy’s CIT training involves a course with the Paxton campus in recognizing intellectual disabilities specifically. It also allows deputies to interact with people with disabilities and for the disability community, especially youth, to get used to law enforcement officers.
In 2013, LCSO had 32 taser deployments, which dropped to 18 in 2014, 10 in 2015 and 4 in 2016, Chapman said.
“I think that says a lot about our deputies out there and the ability that they have to now communicate to de-escalate situations,” Chapman said.
The holistic approach of the training is important so that the disabled community is best served, Heifetz said. If officials within the criminal justice system are not educated on how certain intellectual disabilities affect people’s behavior, they may waste time and resources on an individual and the individual may receive unnecessary penalties.
“All of this has given us the ability to expand what we do to even greater levels. I’m proud of the work that we’ve been able to do with so many great partners here” Chapman said. “It shows how well connected we are as a community and how we address these problems in totality, not just expecting one agency to do something and another to do this or do that.
The Disability Response Team consists of members of LCSO, the Arc of Loudoun, the Public Defender’s Office, Special Education attorneys, family advocates, Loudoun County Mental Health and the county Juvenile Detention Center.
This is the first time Pathways to Justice has been presented in Virginia.