Disability and Policing

Monday, June 22, 2020

As we seek reforms to protect black lives from abusive police practices, it is important for policymakers to recognize the extent to which race and disability combine to increase the risk of harm. In an article for an upcoming symposium on race and policing, Professor Ann McGinley cites disturbing research—among individuals killed by police officers, between one-third and one-half have a mental health, intellectual, or other disability. To properly eliminate harms from police misconduct, reforms must address the roles of both race and disability in putting black lives at risk.

Prof. McGinley’s article will be part of a 2020-21 symposium sponsored by the Nevada Law Journal, in conjunction with the UNLV Boyd School of Law Program on Race, Gender & Policing. Tentatively titled, Enough! Eliminating Police Abuse of People of Color with Disabilities, Prof. McGinley analyzes the potential use of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to hold police departments liable for injuries and deaths suffered during arrests, interrogations, and imprisonment. 

Just as a person’s race can increase the risk of arrest, so can a person’s disability. In fact, the intersection of black race and disability elevates the risk of arrest and injury catastrophically.  One study demonstrates that while 37% of black persons without disabilities suffer an arrest before the age of 29, that percentage rises to 55% for black persons with disabilities. In too many tragic cases, family members of an individual with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other mental health disability call police for help transporting the individual to the hospital, but police escalate the tense situation, leaving the individual dead or seriously injured. In others, police shoot deaf individuals who do not follow their directions. Given this reality, it is imperative that the Black Lives Matter movement consider the intersection of race and disability when making legal and policy recommendations for change. 

Prof. McGinley’s article will explore varying interpretations of Title II of the ADA as well as possible amendments to the Act that would make it more responsive to the needs of those who are wrongfully injured by the police. Moreover, it will discuss the positive effects (or lack thereof) of programs that train police officers about how to deal with persons with disabilities, especially those with mental health, intellectual, and sensory perception disabilities. It will also consider community alternatives to funding police to handle individuals with mental health and other disabilities.