CPD’s Impending Consent Decree Holds Promise to Improve Safety for Over-Policed Disabled Population

Posted on February 13, 2019

According to a new article from the Chicago Reporter, the current draft of the consent decree imposed by federal court on the Chicago Police Department will include provisions intended to specifically address the safety of individuals with disabilities. The consent decree in its current form includes items addressing reforms to policies governing police officers’ interaction with individuals with disabilities. Among these measures is the creation of a “training bulletin” that prescribes methods for identifying and accommodating various types of disabilities.

Most crucially, though, the draft designates an Americans with Disabilities Act liaison within the department. This liaison would not only be able to process concerns from citizens, but conduct periodic reviews of how CPD policies do or do not address them.

The report, which was produced in collaboration with City Bureau, underscores the dire need for instilling more sensitivity in officers toward citizens with disabilities. As the piece’s author, Nissa Rhee, aptly points out, a Cornell University study concluded that Individuals with mental or physical disabilities are 44 percent more likely than non-disabled individuals to be arrested by age 28. Paired with data from University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability indicating that nearly 13 percent of all Americans have some sort of medically recognized disability, this statistic makes evident the very real danger that 1 in 8 people face from interactions with under-trained law enforcement.

It is also worth noting that the potential for harm in interactions with law enforcement is compounded by the fact that Americans with disabilities are also disproportionately more likely to be victims of violent crime, increasing the likelihood of dealing with police (in some capacity) that much more.

A number of prominent voices in the community advocating police reform contend that the consent decree, as it stands, does not go far enough to protect Chicago’s most vulnerable. Karen Sheley, director of ACLU of Illinois’s Police Practices Project, emphasized the need for more than the guidance document that “training bulletin” would amount to, but actual training sessions devoted to preparing officers to address the needs of Chicago’s citizens with disabilities. Other activists, like disabled activist and victim of police misconduct Eric Wilkins, go further by adding that such training should be facilitated by an individual with disabilities, as a way to foster improved ties between CPD and the communities they serve.

Other organizers are taking a more direct approach to moving disability-conscious police reform. In response to unaddressed community concerns about CPD’s treatment of disabled citizens, a coalition of Chicago civil liberties groups filed suit against the city. In the suit, known as “Communities United,” the plaintiffs seek to compel the city to include reform of policies toward disabled citizens as part of the consent decree. According to one of the attorneys bringing the suit, Amanda Anholt, CPD currently does not keep sufficient records of officer interaction with disabled persons, nor is there a policy to specifically address how such interactions should be handled.

What all of these efforts have in common is an insistence that the final consent decree incorporate greater community input. Fortunately, advocacy efforts by community leaders and legal challenges by allied community stakeholders provide recourse for when those with the power to draft the consent decree fail to respond to their needs.

You can read the full article from the Chicago Reporter here.