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SALT LAKE CITY — Shock and outrage followed the announcement that Salt Lake police had shot a 13-year-old autistic boy suffering a mental issue, but the reality is people with disabilities are often involved in critical incidents with police.
“Estimates of as high as 80% of police brutality involve people with disabilities,” Nick Crippes of Utah’s Disability Law Center told Salt Lake City’s Racial Equity in Policing Commission Wednesday night. “Going back to your earlier discussion on SROs (School Resource Officers), students with disabilities make up 12% of the population but 25% of the arrests. And three-quarters of those in the juvenile justice system have a disability. So there is a great ... intersection between disability and police involvement.”
Crippes and Andrew Riggle, the Disability Law Center’s public policy advocate, asked the commission, which just began meeting last month, if they could address the group to make sure these types of issues were included in its policy review. He pointed out that the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, known as MCOT, through University Neuropsychiatric Institute is helpful to families but “does have its limitations,” and commissioners should examine “best practices” when reviewing how and if Salt Lake police use Critical Incident Teams.
“The intersection of race and disability is, we believe, a very important part of the conversation,” he said.
The commission formed a subcommittee to examine school safety, including the use of school resource officers. Crippes suggested they look at putting “resources into other programs as opposed to increasing the use of SROs.”
Crippes said the Disability Law Center is reviewing the same policies the commission is examining and “trying to look at those with a lens of disability, and we would hope to be able to provide more feedback.”
The commission unanimously approved a motion to have an independent party conduct a survey of Salt Lake police officers, staff and dispatchers, asking them to share their views on race, policing issues, policies and training offered to them. The motion was made by commissioner Carol Shifflett, who said she opposed another motion to pair commissioners with police officers in a “humanizing” program until they better understand the climate of the department and its employees.
The group hired a team of facilitators to help them in their efforts to address culture, policy and budget issues within the police department, and they may conduct the survey, as Shifflett felt it should be done by someone independent of both the department and the commission.
The bulk of the discussion considered whether to form a subcommittee that would examine the role of school resource officers, and while a few commissioners were opposed because they feel the input of the entire commission is important in examining the issue, most voted in support of a subcommittee in hopes they could delve deeper into the issues surrounding school safety in a smaller group that could meet more often.
“The idea behind an SRO subcommittee is to have several people who believe this issue is near and dear to their hearts,” said commissioner Nicole Salazar-Hall, who made the suggestion to form a subcommittee. “It’s something they’ve perhaps dedicated their lives to, something that they’re interested in for a long time to be able to take a deeper dive into so that the rest of the commission does not have to take that deep of a dive, and distill that information provided to the larger commission for consideration.”
Commissioner Kamaal Ahmad, a teacher and activist, said he felt any school-based issue should involve the community councils.
“I do love that umbrella under school safety,” Ahmad said. “Right now we do have an issue with our schools ... especially with the amount of drugs flowing through our schools. ... That’s an epidemic going on right now in our schools, even trickling down to elementary schools.”
Two student members of the commission asked questions that the group felt deserved a deeper dive and response from the police department, and so both were put on next week’s agenda. The students asked for clarity on what constitutes “reasonable,” as the term is used throughout policy in different ways, and also an explanation into why, how and what kinds of “gestures” constitute a threat to officers.
The commission is scheduled to meet every Wednesday for the next year.