[On May 11] Representative Susan Wild (PA-07) introduced the Safe Interactions Act, new legislation to improve interactions between law enforcement officers and people with disabilities and mental health needs. The legislation aims to create safer communities and reduce violence towards people with disabilities by funding grants for new training programs for law enforcement officers. These grants will be used to create partnerships between non-profit disability organizations and law enforcement agencies to administer enhanced training programs for law enforcement officers about interactions with people with disabilities.
“We must do more to ensure that interactions between law enforcement and people experiencing a mental health crisis or living with a disability are rooted in best practices for the safety and wellbeing of all parties,” said Rep. Wild. “That is why I am leading the bipartisan Safe Interactions Act alongside Senator Casey and Representative Fitzpatrick to provide comprehensive training for law enforcement officers and increase our collective ability to help prevent miscommunication between vulnerable populations and law enforcement officers trying to keep us safe.”
“We have an obligation to prevent future tragedies like those faced by Osaze Osagie and Walter Wallace, both of whom were failed by our emergency systems. The Safe Interactions Act will provide law enforcement personnel with knowledge and training to interact with people with disabilities who may be in crisis. This legislation would support both people with disabilities and law enforcement officers by ensuring that officers have the vital skills needed to de-escalate situations and prevent violence,” said Senator Casey.
“Individuals with disabilities and mental health needs are important contributors in our communities,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to join Senator Casey and Congressman Wild in leading the bipartisan Safe Interactions Act to provide law enforcement officials with the training and support they need to promote effective communication with vulnerable populations and keep us safe.”
“Without sufficient training, it can be difficult for a law enforcement officer to identify someone who has a disability and know how to interact with that person to avoid any miscommunication. The Safe Interactions Act will help provide officers access to such training, which will be developed in partnership with those who do have disabilities, in order to create safer communities,” Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“The Autism Society of America believes this bill will prevent unnecessary harm and deaths for people with disabilities, as well as for police officers. We look forward to working with the bills’ champions to move this bill through Congress as quickly as possible,” said Christopher S. Banks, President and CEO of The Autism Society of America.
The Washington Post database of police shootings estimates that at least 25 percent of shootings involve a person with a mental health disability. A 2016 Ruderman Foundation report estimated that between one-third and half of 2015 shootings involving a law enforcement officer included a person with a disability.
The Safe Interactions Act would provide grants to enable non-profit disability organizations to develop training programs that support safe interactions between law enforcement officers and people with disabilities. The training would be directed to both new and veteran officers and would include people with disabilities in the training as instructors. It would also establish an advisory council, chaired by a person with a disability, to oversee the training program development and implementation.
The Safe Interactions Act is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, United Way Worldwide, the ARC of the United States, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, Autism Society of America, Association of Rural Independent Living Programs, National Association of the Deaf, TASH, ACHIEVA, ANCOR, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Autism Connection of Pennsylvania, Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association of Pennsylvania.
A companion bill in the Senate is led by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
A one-pager about the Safe Interactions Act is available here.
A section-by-section breakdown of the Safe Interactions Act is available here.