By Kate McGuire, Chief Advancement Officer
Last month’s report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) presented numerous violations of civil rights, abuses of authority, and mistreatment of citizens – including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
The Arc Baltimore provides direct services to thousands of individuals with I/DD and their families in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Together with The Arc Maryland and The Arc U.S., we advocate for the rights of people with I/DD and for public policies that support them in our communities.
While we were very concerned by much in the report, we believe the report represents a first step toward solutions. The Arc was gratified to see that issues concerning people with I/DD were addressed in the DOJ report. We are very aware of the unfortunate realities that occur for this population as well as for people with mental health issues. Indeed, some people with I/DD whom we serve also have mental health challenges.
As a result of our experience, we have been pleased to be included in the Behavioral Emergency Services Team (BEST) training program used by the BPD. Since 2014, we have been involved in the curriculum development to add further elements to the training about individuals with I/DD. Staff from The Arc Baltimore have also been actively engaged in the BEST training for new officers.
The Arc Baltimore stands ready to further assist the BPD to bring BEST training to all its officers and we are pleased that this is already beginning to happen. BEST training will have an even greater impact when it is brought to all levels of the BPD, from dispatchers to veteran officers. We also believe that the BEST training that relates to people with I/DD would be greatly enhanced by including people with I/DD as active participants in the training process. In the meantime, we encourage family members and staff at The Arc to ask for BEST trained officers if you are aware of a person with I/DD having an encounter with BPD that may better handled by a BEST trained officer.
We commend the DOJ report’s references to strengthening crisis intervention teams and using de-escalation strategies. Again, we stand ready to further our partnership with the BPD to help expand on the BEST training and seek other opportunities to build understanding and strategies that more effectively serve people with I/DD. As the report suggests, collaboration with service providers like The Arc Baltimore can be a major part of the solution.