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6/26/2023 Bill to train police for interactions with people with cognitive or communications disabilities enacted
STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Sen. Alana DiMario to train police to recognize and respond appropriately in situations involving individuals with cognitive or communication-related disabilities has been enacted.

The law (2023-S 0401, 2023-H 5185) requires the Police Officers Commission on Standards and Training to provide instruction for police officers in identifying, responding to and handling all incidents involving victims, witnesses or suspects with cognitive or communication-related disabilities. Police would be trained on safely de-escalating crisis situations involving such individuals and be given information on initiating timely referrals to resources available in the community.

The commission will also be required to develop guidelines for law enforcement responses to incidents involving such persons.

“It is extremely important for everyone’s safety that police know how to respond to calls involving someone with a cognitive or communications disability,” said Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown). “Some individuals with these conditions can become overwhelmed or panicked in emergencies or when confronted, and that can escalate a situation and result in misunderstandings and tragedies. In situations where the person is a witness, police need to know how to respond in the most constructive way for the benefit of the investigation. Sometimes a disability or an inability to clearly communicate can be misinterpreted as suspicious or criminal behavior, or as deliberate refusal to cooperate. There are also times when the person who calls the police has already misunderstood a disability for a suspicious activity, and if the police are given that information and aren’t well equipped to recognize the difference, the individual can be in serious danger. Police encounters with members of the disabled community are extremely common, so police training should absolutely include information to help them in these situations. Disabled Rhode Islanders deserve to be understood and be safe, and police deserve to be better equipped to help and protect them.”

A 2016 study by the Ruderman Family Foundation estimates that one-third to half of all police use-of-force involve a person with a disability.

“We too often ask our police officers to respond to situations for which they aren’t properly trained or resourced,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham). “This bill is about ensuring officers have the tools and education they need to handle interactions with our neighbors with cognitive or communications-related disabilities. That way, people in need of help can be directed toward resources and everyone can leave that interaction safely.”

For more information, contact:
Fil Eden, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903