Saturday, February 22, 2014

Commission Holds Final Listening Session In Frederick

from WFMD 930 Free Talk:
The final listening session of the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion Of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities was held in Frederick on Saturday afternoon. The panel was set up to examine training for police officers and other first-responders in dealing with persons with disabilities, and to make recommendations.
Members heard from a number of witnesses, including Phyllis Lidell, whose grandson has autism. She  said he also  has physical disabilities no one can see. "Police officers are working with everybody. They're so vulnerable to their ignorance, and other people's ignorance. They are looked on for guidance in these situations. They're looked at to set an example and control the situation. And when they're out of control themselves, we've got mayhem," she said.
The panel was appointed by the Governor in September, 2013, following the death of Ethan Saylor, 26, of New Market, who died following a struggle with off-duty sheriff's deputies who were trying to remove him from a movie theater in Frederick. He had Down Syndrome.
The State Medical Examiner's Office ruled the cause of death was asphysia , and the manner of death was homicide.   A grand jury investigated, but decline to indict the three deputies.
One of the speakers at Saturday's session was Adrian Forsythe, who has Down Syndrome. "They {the wider community} should be educated and acknowledge that we are the same, not different. And because of that, no one deserves to be a victim. I just don't think being a victim means you have a disability," he said.
His mother, Nancy Forsythe with the Down Syndrome Coalition, called for "mandatory training for all first responders. That it be annual. That it be in person. That it be cross disability with measurable outcomes." She also said the training should include interactions with actual persons who have disabilities.
While improved training is a good thing, Guthrie Quill, a former Montgomery County Police Officer, said there also needs to be a change in culture at many police departments; specifically, the attitude that being different is dangerous,  and submission is necessary for constructive engagement. "Until those two fundamental assumptions are challenged, and until the all-encompassing, self-justifying cult of officer safety is placed within a greater perspective of the role of the police in a civil society, which is to protect people's rights and maintain order, I fear that incidents, which we don't need to name specifically, will continue," he said.
That comment was echoed by Lara Westdorp. "We need to break down the culture of how we train police officers from the beginning, through when they're on the street," she said. "That culture has to see a complete turnaround." Westdorp says that culture comes from the top down at the Frederick County Sheriff's Office.
Last month, deputies began training at Mount Saint Mary's University on dealing with individuals with intellectual disabilities. They were taught how to recognize persons with intellectual disabilities and those with a mental illness.
The session in Frederick was the final stop on the Commission's listening tour throughout the state. Other sessions were held in Silver Spring, Catonsville and Easton.
Even though the listening sessions are over, Commission Chairman Tim Shriver says there's still more work to be done. "We've got to come up with recommendations for what should be mandatory; what should be optional; the range of options that should span the different domains, transportation, health services, emergency responders, law enforcement and so on," he says, noting that many of these changes will require some legislation to be presented to the Maryland General Assembly.
He says the panel learned a lot in its travels through Maryland. "There's an enormous gap between what public officials know, or think they know, and the kind of knowledge they need to be effective agents of inclusion," says Shriver. "This state stands for inclusion. It stands for equality; it stands for dignity; it stands for the acceptance of all people regardless of their disability."
The Commission is expected next month to review the testimony, and determine a direction for the future.

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