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Where do Candidates Stand on Police Violence and Crime Against People with Disabilities?

Washington, Oct. 31 – Nearly half of all people killed by police in the U.S. have a disability. Yesterday Terrance Coleman, a black man with paranoia and schizophrenia, was shot and killed by two police officers in Boston. Coleman’s mother had called for an ambulance to take her son to a hospital and the police officers arrived to accompany the EMTs. They shot him when he refused to leave with the EMTs; there are conflicting reports if Coleman had touched a knife that was on a nearby kitchen table.

The week prior Deborah Danner, a black woman with schizophrenia, was shot and killed by a New York City police sergeant. The police knew of her disability and had been called to her apartment before, but this time the officer did not follow protocol for dealing with someone with a mental illness.

While the vast majority of officers only want to protect the community they patrol, officers not properly trained in dealing with people with disabilities are bound to make mistakes. Resources such as the new Police-Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit have been designed to help police learn how to interact with people who have disabilities.

Violence against people with disabilities is a larger issue than just police brutality, however. People with disabilities, particularly those with cognitive disabilities, often are targets for bullying, assault and robbery. The most recent statistics available found that the rate of violent crime against people with disabilities is twice that of violence against people without disabilities.

As part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for Senate or Governor about their plans to address the issue of violence against people with disabilities. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer. The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to question 11 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime as those without disabilities. People with disabilities also are far more likely to suffer from police violence, partially because manifestations of disability can be misunderstood as defiant behavior. Do you have a plan to address these issues?” This was adapted from a similar question, number nine, in the presidential questionnaire.

The majority of both Republicans (66 percent) and Democrats (74 percent) acknowledged a need for more police training and education about how to handle situations that involve people with disabilities.

“News reports over the past few years have included tragic accounts of the deaths of people with disabilities during confrontations with police, and this is something that we must take seriously,” said Sen. Richard Burr, who is a Republican running for re-election in North Carolina. “I support full funding for programs to train our law enforcement officers so that they are properly prepared for interactions with people with disabilities.”

Burr’s opponent, Democrat State Rep. Deborah Ross, also called for more training. “We must increase police training on how to work with people suffering from mental illnesses, reduced cognitive abilities, or other disabilities.” Ross replied. “We must also protect people with disabilities from discrimination, stigma, poor health, and violent crime.”

Check out all of the candidates’ full responses below:

Presidential Candidates
NOTE: Donald Trump declined to respond to the survey.

Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D)
“It is heartbreaking to see the number of [people with disabilities] who are victims of crime, as well as to hear of police encounters that go wrong and result in injury or death. These dynamics are often the result of misinformation, lack of cultural understanding, or failing to provide officers with the training they need as frontline responders. I will work to strengthen the bonds of trust between communities and police, including making new investments to support law enforcement training programs at every level of government – including on implicit bias, use of force, de-escalation, crisis intervention, alternatives to incarceration, and officer safety and wellness. To increase transparency and accountability, I will provide federal matching funds to make body cameras available to every police officer across the nation, and I will double funding for the DOJ’s “Collaborative Reform” program to provide technical assistance and training to agencies that undertake voluntary efforts toward transformational reform of their police departments.

[People with disabilities] aren’t just likely to be victims of crime. Far too many children with autism and other disabilities are subject to abuse, injury, or harassment that threatens their right to safely attend school. Too often, extreme interventions are written into individualized education plans (IEPs) as a measure of first resort and executed by staff with insufficient training. Children with autism are also especially likely to be subject to dangerous practices such as the use of mechanical and chemical restraints and seclusion, and youth with disabilities are bullied at higher rates than their classmates. As President, I will enact the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which bans the use of all mechanical and chemical restraints, and any physical restraints that restrict breathing; confines the use of restraint and seclusion to situations only in which there is an imminent danger of physical injury; requires reporting to parents if these practices are used; prevents restraint and seclusion from being written into IEPs as planned interventions; and requires districts to employ staff trained in crisis-intervention and behavioral-management techniques. I will also ensure schools do not remove victims of bullying from general education classrooms or place them in segregated settings in violation of students’ rights of children under IDEA, and I will direct the Department of Education to enforce strong guidance to states and school districts that students with disabilities must be protected from bullying and allowed to remain in their classrooms.”

Gubernatorial Candidates

State Sen. Colin Bonini (DE-R)
“In Delaware, an attack on an individual with a disability is considered a hate crime, which I support. Regarding police violence, more awareness training and education is needed for law enforcement. I know our law enforcement community would welcome more training on these issues.”

Rep. John Carney (DE-D)
“I believe there needs to be substantial effort put into building relationships between Delaware law enforcement agencies and the communities they protect. This effort should include professional development and training on understanding and meeting the needs of those with disabilities to ensure that every Delawareans’ rights are protected and our communities remain safe.”

Ms. Linda Coleman (NC-D) – running for Lt. Gov.
“We need better public education on [people with disabilities], without that we will only perpetuate the stigma against disabilities. In regard to police violence, we need to improve training programs and incorporate disabilities into anti­-discrimination and cultural sensitivity curriculum. We need a comprehensive review of our police conduct in conjunction the Governor and the State Bureau of Investigation.”

Mr. Mike Weinholtz (UT-D)
“It is my belief that all public servants, and especially peace officers, should receive appropriate annual de-escalation training that is certified by a national or regional program. I will call upon the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Division of Peace Officer Standards and Training to help establish and expand upon training programs that specifically deal with these situations. Larger departments that have their own training programs in the state (the Salt Lake City Police Department, for example) will be expected to go through similar annual trainings and be able to access the statewide training materials if they so choose to ensure that all officers in the state are prepared for such situations.”

Sec. Sue Minter (VT-D)
“In recent years Vermont state government has initiated programs to better train law enforcement officers in deescalating situations involving perceived erratic or defiant behavior. Mental health and other professionals are now routinely called in for those situations. I will support those initiatives as governor so that training and refreshing courses are always required and available.”

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (VT-R)
“I plan to continue my partnership with the law enforcement community in order to ensure mental and physical health needs are taken into account during police responses and subsequent actions. I am proud to say Vermont’s law enforcement community is respectful and not prone to acts of violence, and we are already making large inroads on best police practices and recognition tools.”

Senate Candidates

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“Kamala Harris knows from her work as a prosecutor that persons with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be victims of crime and, as a result, they need police in their communities who act fairly, impartially, and with an understanding of the various challenges that persons with disabilities live with. As California Attorney General, Kamala has taken innovative steps to improve community policing through, among other things, the creation of California’s 21st Century Policing Working Group, a diverse coalition of sheriffs, chiefs and other law enforcement leaders from across the state. She also helped create the first statewide law enforcement training on implicit bias and procedural justice certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. In the Senate, Kamala will continue to seek justice for persons with disabilities who are victims of crime and she will seek community policing reforms to improve the relationship between police and the communities they’re sworn to serve, including expanding the responsible use of body-worn cameras, expanding training on crisis response, and funding more federal civil rights investigations.”

Mr. John Carroll (HI-R)
“I have no plan at this present time, but should the need arise in our state, I would address it.”

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“I support the full prosecution of those responsible for abusing people with disabilities, including neglectful caretakers and under-informed police. In the Senate, I will fight passionately for the safety and protection of people with disabilities from anyone who wishes to do them harm or neglect their health and wellness.”

Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-D)
“I have not given any thoughts to the relationships between those with disabilities and the police.”

Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“I support better training for officers and first responders that will increase trust between citizens and responders and eradicate negative consequences that result from lack of understanding. Law enforcement training is a must. I will fight for federal matching funds for body cameras for local law enforcement. Alternatives to incarceration must be maximized and communication and cooperation among agencies to provide access to services must be improved.

I will stand up for enforcement of student rights under IDEA to make sure victims of bullying are not removed from inclusive settings, and to eradicate the use of physical restraints in public schools. These policies should be written into every IEP.”

Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“It is unacceptable that so many people with disabilities are victims of crime and violence. Greater resources are needed for police training, particularly for interacting with individuals with disabilities. I fully support seeking special appropriations for greater officer training to address these issues. It is also important that all schools continue to identify and implement anti-bullying & discrimination education. All Americans, including police & educators, need to be aware of the issues that surround disabilities.”

Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“Our law enforcement community is one of our country’s greatest assets but they have an incredibly tough job. We need to empower our local leaders with the tools they need to equip our law enforcement officers with the training to identify and differentiate those who may need assistance from those who pose a danger.”

Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)
“We must provide people with disabilities the tools not only to proactively protect themselves from criminals when they can do so and access to law enforcement protection, but also ensure that our legal system provides justice for those who are victims.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“This is a particularly personal issue to me, because a constituent of mine with Down Syndrome, Ethan Saylor, was killed by police as they attempted to forcibly remove him from a movie theatre. This tragedy occurs far too often. We need to improve training, including on de-escalation and implicit bias. I also strongly support police body cameras for greater accountability.

We also need to address the abuse of seclusion and restraint in education settings by passing the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which would improve training in positive behavioral supports for teachers and staff, prohibit extreme interventions, and ensure that parents are notified any time that restraint or seclusion are used to prevent physical injury to the child.”

Secretary of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“I believe Congress should play a role in supporting state and local law enforcement so that everyone, regardless of their background, feels safe and protected under the law. Commonsense solutions such as body cameras can play a vital role in encouraging transparency and accountability among communities and police enforcement alike. It is also important that law enforcement receives the proper training so they can help identify and work with individuals suffering from disability and respond accordingly.”

Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“We must ensure that law enforcement personnel are properly trained to handle situations involving individuals with disabilities. Sadly, we have seen situations where that was not the case, resulting in the tragic deaths of individuals with disabilities who intended no harm towards officers. The proper role for a federally-elected official in this area is to provide thorough oversight of law enforcement agencies. Having worked in law enforcement and maintained relationships with law enforcement officials throughout Nevada, this is a role I am prepared to assume.”

Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“On the federal level, we need to work with state and local law enforcement to ensure that everyone in our nation-no matter their race, creed, sexual orientation, immigration status, or disability status-have faith and trust in law enforcement. We need to work with these agencies to continue to support their work reaching out to different communities to develop engagement plans for disabled populations.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“I helped introduce bipartisan legislation called the Mental Health First Aid Act, which would train law enforcement, community leaders, educators, and others to recognize the warning signs of a mental health crisis and help direct individuals in need to proper care and treatment. While this legislation is focused on mental health issues, I believe this kind of training could help create better awareness of the ways individuals interact with their communities and help lessen unintended violence. Parts of this legislation focusing on training educators and school personnel were added to the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law in December 2015. I also helped introduce the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, which is intended to increase public safety by facilitating greater collaboration among the criminal justice, mental health, substance use treatment, and veterans treatment services systems.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“As Governor, public safety has been my highest priority since taking office and I have taken a balanced approach to ensuring a fair criminal justice system. In New Hampshire, we have integrated into our unified police training program a component on recognizing people with mental illnesses, substance abuse, epilepsy and other disabilities and on working to safely de-escalate situations. I recently signed a law that makes financial exploitation of people with disabilities a criminal offense. I have signed legislation establishing the crime of domestic violence, strengthened protections for human trafficking victims, and provided funding to support child victims of crime. In the Senate, I will continue working to protect public safety and ensure that people with disabilities have the support and protection they need to keep them safe.”

Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“News reports over the past few years have included tragic accounts of the deaths of people with disabilities during confrontations with police, and this is something that we must take seriously. I support full funding for programs to train our law enforcement officers so that they are properly prepared for interactions with people with disabilities.

I am also a cosponsor of Kevin and Avonte’s Law, a bill aimed at helping to locate special needs children and adults who have conditions that give them a higher tendency to wander from caregivers. Kevin and Avonte’s Law would provide grants to assist law enforcement in planning programs to prevent wandering and to locate missing individuals. I believe this legislation provides an important component in promoting understanding between law enforcement and people with disabilities, and I am pleased that it recently passed the Senate.

I also believe it is important that we recognize the propensity of people with disabilities to be victims of crime, and to provide them with appropriate support services when they are victims. For example, the State Department has noted that individuals with disabilities are particularly at risk of being trafficking victims, and I have worked to stop human trafficking both in the United States and around the globe and to provide support for survivors. I’m also proud to have supported programs like the Department of Justice’s Training and Services to End Violence Against Women with Disabilities Grant Program, which was established in the Violence Against Women Act in 2000.”

State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
“The fact that the rate of violent crime against people with disabilities is double the rate for people without disabilities must change. We must increase police training on how to work with people suffering from mental illnesses, reduced cognitive abilities, or other disabilities. We must also protect people with disabilities from discrimination, stigma, poor health, and violent crime.”

Mr. Joe DeMare (OH-G)
“I am acutely aware of the problems disabled often have in relating to police. Deaf people, especially, have many times suffered injury, arrest, and even death because they could not perceive shouted commands from police officers.

The Green Party advocates Citizen Review Boards that will monitor police departments and ensure that best practices are followed. Sensitivity to disability issues varies widely from police department to police department. The Black Lives Matter movement has also pointed out the inequities in police treatment of minorities. I believe it is time for the federal government to issue guidelines to local police departments, based on best practices for dealing with the public. These guidelines will help police departments protect the public, both from criminals, and from bad policing policies.”

Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“This falls into the same category as education to the public. Just as we have information classes regarding medical conditions I believe we need the same for disability symptoms and behaviors. By passing legislation that provides a better support system for individuals with disabilities I think that will limit some of these situations from continuing to occur however we need an overall campaign that educates all of the public about the disabled. Narlina has told me about the stigma related to her and how she does not openly tell people she is disabled because many judge her for it, and if they don’t know they will respect her, however, if she openly tells them they will judge her and instead of providing respect will attack and belittle her. Due to this stigma, it would not be beneficial for people with disabilities to be provided an identifying item that could be provided to law enforcement, however with education and implementing law enforcement officers who are trained to identify the disabled it would greatly limit this abuse.”

Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“As we’ve seen all too often recently, we have some work to do when it comes to the relationships between police officers and the communities they serve. My father was a cop who walked the beat for over 20 years in Philadelphia, and in that time he worked hard to get to know the members of his community and understand their lives and backstories. I strongly support community policing initiatives in that same spirit and de-escalation training for police officers, and believe that training should include disability awareness and training. In the Senate, I will work to double funding for the COPS hiring program – increasing our national investment in police officers committed to the goals of community policing.”

Mr. Jay Williams (SD-D)
“I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected.”

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“I support police training in deescalation tactics to mitigate potentially violent encounters. I also support greater police training on meeting the diverse needs of people with disabilities in the communities they serve.”


RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.

The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.

Published in2016 Candidate QuestionnaireCongressGovernorsSenate


  1. HarryO HarryO

    Now regretfully that our numbers of persons with disabilities have become the largest minority group in the United States, we must get politically organized. We must now promote and support candidates who respects us by not just saying what we want to hear, but showing their support past, present, and future by introducing legislation that improves are lives. Organizations that claim to represent us must work to create political action committees that will buy air time to help to inform us and encourage us to use our voices at the ballot box to assure a better future for us. This must be done at all levels of goverment.

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