Regarding police treatment of man with disabilities

Dear Editor:
In the July 8 article, “Second video spurs conflicting views of disabled man’s beating by N.J. State Police”, Star-Ledger journalist Christopher Baxter brought to light the second of two videos showing NJ State Police violently restraining a man with an intellectual disability. I’m not here to argue whether or not the footage is deeply disturbing – it is; I’m not here to review the actions of the officers involved – there are already official mechanisms in place to accomplish that; and I’m not here to raise the question of whether unwarranted, excessive force against any suspect, including one with a disability, is acceptable – it most certainly is not.
As a professional advocate for New Jersey citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), I’m here because the best way to reduce mistreatment of suspects with I/DD is to provide training about how to recognize and communicate with a person with these disabilities. In New Jersey, no such training is required or even routinely offered for law enforcement officials, either at the academy level or the in-service level. The Arc of New Jersey works with many county and local law enforcement agencies to bring comprehensive, hands-on training to officers, equipping them to interact safely and effectively with individuals with disabilities. These troubling videos serve as a reminder that there is an ongoing need for all law enforcement professionals to receive this kind of training – and that the time to implement it is now.

Jessica S. Oppenheim, Esq.
Director, Criminal Justice Advocacy Program
The Arc of New Jersey

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