Here’s the text of my letter to the editors of the Charlottesville Daily Progress regarding the editorial to which I referred yesterday:
The Daily Progress got a lot right with its editorial entitled “Protecting mentally ill” (8 August 2006). As the editorial noted, this is a complex problem that is exacerbated by deinstitutionalization, the behavior of individuals with disabilities, and the legitimate need of officers to protect the public. Efforts by the task force convened by the Public Defender Office and other law enforcement officials to provide training for local police officers in handling difficult encounters with individuals with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders certainly deserve praise, and I am glad that the Progress recognized the merits of the effort.
However, the Progress editorial writer overlooked an important aspect of this issue: Law enforcement interactions with children and youths with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Sad news reports from Boise, ID, Denver, CO, and other areas describe terrible incidents—including the death of children with autism—as a consequence of confrontations between officers and children.
Fortunately, around the country law enforcement officials, public-interest groups, and researchers have worked together to develop curricula to help law enforcement personnel resolve untoward encounters between police officers and children with disabilities. I hope our local officials do not overlook the need to include training for officers in use of effective methods when they encounter problems with children and youth who have Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.