What do people with disabilities want from Austin PD? Office of Police Oversight share findings from town hall

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin’s Office of Police Oversight has released its findings from a May town hall gauging feelings about policing among people with disabilities — and has made recommendations for the Austin Police Department and city leaders as a result.

The 196 responses collected for analysis point to reflect that people with disabilities in Austin feel more work is needed to develop trust in policing. The OPO is a local governmental agency that’s independent of APD. Here’s what they found.

Police officers often view people with disabilities as a threat

  • People with physical or psychological disabilities often have negative interactions with police officers because these communities are viewed as a danger
  • Some individuals said having a disability can cause the perception that they’re being non-compliant
  • The use of tools like guns, coupled with aggressive attitudes, can cause people with disabilities to become fearful and lead to more potentially uncomfortable/dangerous situations

One person explained: “For visually impaired individuals, no eye contact can be misinterpreted by police.”

More interaction/communication with police is needed

  • Austin police need more training resources, communication and engagement with people with disabilities — including about how they may react in certain situations

“More community engagement between APD and the deaf community — regular opportunities or events where each side can get to know more of the other and what they each go through [are needed]. Police would also be better served in having better access to interpreters,” one participant said.

Race-Disability

  • When developing or implementing policy, APD must be aware of the intersection of race and disabilities. Certain racial/ethnic groups, classes, and gender identities already have fear and distrust of police

“I don’t call the cops,” one participant said. “I am a rather large Black man with a son with a disability, and it is not safe to do so for me. We’ve all seen the videos. It is a lot of risk that I am unwilling to take.”

“As a Black parent of a child with disabilities, it’s very difficult to even consider calling the police in an emergency,” said another participant.

Policing at schools + race

  • Students of color are disproportionately affected when police report to school systems
  • Some participants say educators and parents are afraid to call police because of how racism operates in the criminal justice system — which can lead to students of color being arrested and sent to prison

Mental health crises

  • Police need better training, resources and understanding about mental health crises

“The police aren’t necessarily who we should be calling for such a broad range of responses, and it might be more helpful and beneficial for the community, especially those experiencing a mental health crisis to create or to support and fund creative and innovative ways of helping people that
are in crisis,” one participant said.

Recommendations

In response to the report, the Office of Police Oversight is recommending:

  • The next Town Hall on Public Safety: People with Disabilities and Policing event should focus on building understanding and communication between APD and people with disabilities
  • City of Austin staff should encourage and accommodate people with disabilities — especially those who intersect with other minority communities — to attend and participate
  • Conversations held at the event should include ideas for further engagement/solutions
  • Conversations should focus on the unique experiences that students with disabilities have in the education system

You can read the entire Town Hall on Public Safety: People with Disabilities and Policing report here.

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