Baltimore police report spotlights disability rights violations

Report cover, "Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department" and the US Department of Justice seal
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The Baltimore Police Department systematically violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the civil rights of people with disabilities, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division declared in a 164-page report released August 11.

Launched in response to the protests over the death of Freddie Gray in Spring 2015, the investigation accused the BPD of engaging in a “pattern and practice” of “unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests,” discrimination against African Americans, use of excessive force, and retaliation against people engaged in constitutionally protected expression.

According to the DOJ, the BPD fails to provide proper training so officers can recognize different types of disabilities in their better interactions. As such, it fails to make “reasonable modifications” in its policies, as required by the ADA, particularly in regard to its treatment of people with mental illness.

Further, the report found that officers failed to practice “common de-escalation techniques” when confronting people with disabilities, leading to a practice of using “unreasonable force” against these individuals. The Department was also chided for failing to find experts to assist it with implementing these practices.

“BPD routinely uses unreasonable force against people with mental illness or in crisis, even when they have not committed any crimes and when the officers know or should know that the individual has a mental health disability,” the report states. “As a result, individuals are exposed to serious harm that exacerbates their disability and the crisis that precipitated the request for BPD assistance.

“This unreasonable use of force against individuals in crisis violates the Fourth Amendment. And BPD further violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices and procedures, such as training in de-escalation, effectively using specialized crisis intervention trained officers, and involving mental health professionals as necessary to avoid discrimination against individuals with disabilities.”

The National Disability Rights Network and Disability Rights Maryland applauded the DOJ’s investigation.

“Negative interactions with police have long been a concern of NDRN and the (Protection and Advocacy) Network. We hope that the independent voices of individuals with disabilities will be heard clearly, and their needs will stay at the forefront throughout the implementation of the report’s recommendations,” the advocacy groups said in a news release.

A video about the report’s reaction from the disability advocacy groups, from ABC2News, can be seen here.