New law to include disabled self-advocates in police training

Many people with disabilities have suffered through contacts with uninformed police officers. While most people grin and bear the misunderstandings and unintentional insults, others don't, or can't. And while the relationship between people with disabilities and police isn't technically on topic, Maryland is going through a lot of police-community issues right now. We thought our Social Security disability blog readers wouldn't mind taking a look at them from a disability perspective.

You may remember a time two years ago when another young man died in the custody of police. It was Ethan Saylor, a young man with Down syndrome who had slipped into a second showing of a movie without paying for a second ticket. Three Frederick County Sheriff's deputies were working as security guards at the theater on their off-hours, and they arrested him. Ethan died in police custody. The cause of death was asphyxiation.

Later, a federal judge excoriated the police in a 54-page ruling regarding his civil rights case, denouncing that "a man died over the cost of a movie ticket."

Ethan's mother wasn't satisfied that justice was served. In honor of his death, Patti Saylor managed to get Maryland's first-ever Commission for the Effective Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities appointed. She also lobbied to improve the training police officers get about disabilities, their symptoms and effects, and how best to work with the people who have them.

It was in the police training portion of her plan that she took a bold step: bringing in people with disabilities to perform that training.

Ms. Saylor saw that it was time for Maryland to "recognize that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be at the table for anything we discuss." And, there are many people with disabilities who are already acting as self-advocates and educators in other areas; why not police training?

After all, the people in the best position to educate the police are those with the most experience in the area being taught. As a result of her advocacy, the Ethan Saylor bill was signed into law last month and will take effect July 1.

The law is the first of its kind in the nation, and recruiting has already begun for disability self-advocates who want to take on the challenge of training police. It's amazing what passion and persistence can accomplish, isn't it?

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