Loudoun County’s efforts to ensure that residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities have successful interactions when dealing with the criminal justice system took a big leap forward on Tuesday when 130 community leaders gathered for a daylong training session at the Ida Lee Recreation Center.
Organized by The Arc of Loudoun and the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, the Pathways to Justice program brought together representatives from law enforcement, the courts, attorneys, victim advocates, and families with disabled members.
Arc Executive Director Melissa Heifetz said the program was designed to build on the Positive Interactions with Law Enforcement training program started in Loudoun last year and was designed to discuss issues proactively before a crisis occurs.
Sheriff Mike Chapman addressed the group at the beginning of the session. He stressed the value of the community partnerships, which have helped his efforts to deescalate potentially combative crisis situations.
More than 70 percent of his officers have completed crisis intervention training, which now includes a module on recognizing people with autism and Asperger Syndrome.
“Somebody with autism may not respond to a command. It’s not because they’re being defiant, it’s because they don’t process the command that they’re being given,” Chapman said. Armed with more information on the conditions, deputies are less likely to act too quickly and escalate the situation, he said.
Overall, the agency’s focus on crisis intervention has shown benefits. Chapman pointed to the steady decline in use of TASERs by deputies since 2013. That year the stun-gun devices were deployed 32 times. That number dropped to 18 the following year and then 10 and then to for last year. So far this year, only one TASER deployment has been reported at the Sheriff’s Office.
“I think that really says a lot about our deputies out there and their ability to communicate and deescalate situations,” he said.
“I’m proud of the work that we’ve been able to do with so many great partners here,” Chapman said.
Tuesday’s program moved beyond the on-the-street emergency interactions disabled residents have with law enforcement to look also as the barriers—and vulnerabilities—they face in the overall criminal justice system.