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Fair policing

There is a call for some more aggressive and deliberate action worldwide as far as it pertains to educating those persons within police forces who come into contact with the disabled. While the disabled have always been around, there are times when they have to come into contact with law enforcement and the powers that be should know how to respond accordingly.

By this I do not only mean how they treat the disabled, but also what the disabled should have access to. Although I have not heard of any form of police indifference here in Barbados where the disabled are concerned, I do know that there were situations where not all the officers involved knew how to respond appropriately.

I believe that education goes a long way in eradicating any potential mishaps from happening due to lack of information. When faced with scenarios where you’ve had no prior experience there can be great conflict, misunderstanding and even injury.

There have been instances in other countries where the disabled have been seriously injured through no fault of their own. I would never forget when a deaf man was shot in the US for having a weapon (a rake) because he refused to obey the verbal order from the police.

He saw guns pointed at him and could see the intense facial expressions. They heard a man making loud noises who then began to behave hysterically and who also refused to obey a direct order. The result was a fatal shooting.

In recent times there was the case of the blind man, Mr. Farmer, who was on his way to meet friends at a pub in England when he was ordered to stop, again in this case by police officers who shouted at him apparently believing that his white stick was a samurai sword. He thought that the shouts came from “thugs” who meant him harm since apparently they didn’t according to him, identify themselves. He was subsequently tasered, jumped on and pinned to the ground by his police pursuers. While a lawsuit has been filed against the force, the police have expressed deep regret following the incident and said that they were responding to a call about a man wielding a samurai sword who they later caught and arrested.

Although the above scenarios might seem extreme they do take place too often in bigger countries and many lives are disrupted. In so many instances harm could have been avoided with just a little more investigation.

However, as far as interaction with the disabled in circumstances where they have to be questioned formally for whatever reason, here are some helpful guidelines as given by

People who are deaf, hearing impaired or who have speech difficulties:

If interviewing deaf, hearing impaired or persons with speech difficulties, the police should arrange for an interpreter to be present. The police should not conduct any questioning until the interpreter is present. This is unless a delay would mean an immediate risk of harm to someone or serious loss of, or damage to, property.

People who have a learning disability:

The police should only interview someone who has a learning disability when a responsible person (sometimes referred to as an “appropriate adult”) is present. This person should not be employed by the police and should be experienced in dealing with people with learning disabilities. It could be a relative of the person who is interviewed or someone responsible for their care.

If you have a learning disability, the police should not interview you until a responsible person is present unless delay would result in a risk of harm to property or people.

Right to medical treatment:

If you are detained, you are entitled to a medical examination. You may also be examined by a general practitioner that you choose, if they are available. You may have to pay for this, however and this will be formally recorded.

All persons, including those with disabilities, have the right to be treated fairly by the law and be given every opportunity to present their case and be heard. I don’t know of any police force anywhere on this planet that likes to see their name negatively plastered in the newspaper or all over the Internet for any reason far less brutality or unfair treatment being the highlight.

So again I reiterate the call for sensitising those who work within our police force. Even if it has been done in the past people forget and new members join on an annual basis. Let’s do everything possible to ensure not only that the police are trained in this area but that the disabled feel safe knowing that they will be truly protected and served.

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