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Major Lesson Plan Dealing With Persons With Special Needs

Jack Ryan

Target Audience: Law Enforcement personnel who may be faced with the task of dealing with persons of special needs.

Objective: Provide officers with awareness of special needs issues relating to mental health, emotional disturbances and other disabilities for which law enforcement should utilize alternative tactics and response.

Format: Roll-call/ supervisory training.

Time: Five to ten minutes, but this may be expanded where agency resources allow.

Materials: Law Enforcement Risk Management Legal Update.

Note: Officers should be encouraged to read the article in this update either before or after this roll-call training.

Hypothetical #1:

An officer responds to the home of an elderly couple for a disturbance call. Upon arrival the elderly woman informs the officer that her elderly husband has stopped taking his psychiatric medication and that he is depressed and suicidal. She reports that the man is the only other person in the home and that he has retreated to a rear bedroom with a kitchen knife. The officer removes the woman to safety. What should the officer do now?

Answer #1

Call for backup, secure the area to the degree possible and wait.

Hypothetical #2

Backup officers and a supervisor have arrived on the scene. The man is still alone in the bedroom. What is the best course of action?

Answer #2

Secure a perimeter. Isolate and negotiate from a position of safety-remember, do not act as the escalating factor. Take your time, move slowly, don’t excite, and do not invade the person’s space. Where possible, seek the assistance of mental health professionals (start with the treating doctor). Remember if the scene is not dynamic and violent, take your time-do not take action that will make it dynamic and violent by placing yourself in a position of danger.

Hypothetical #3

Police stop a vehicle and decide to remove the driver and the passengers for safety purposes. (Note-Such removal is allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court-see Maryland v. Wilson and Pennsylvania v. Mimms). The passenger reports that he is unable to get out because of an ankle injury and further that he had received assistance in getting into the car. What should the officer do?

Answer #3

First and foremost the officer should consider whether or not there is an objectively reasonable safety need for getting the person out of the car. While the Supreme Court does not require such a showing, where the person claims an injury that may be worsened by the police conduct, officers should take this into account and be able to articulate why it was necessary to proceed in light of the stated injury. Where practical, an officer should consider alternatives. One alternative may be to assist the person or to call for medical services to evaluate and/or assist the person. In cases where the injury is obvious, officers/deputies should consider alternatives while at the same time balancing the articulable safety issues.

Hypothetical #4

Officers are forced to arrest a man who is hearing impaired and can only communicate via sign language or a TDD. There is no TDD available; however one of the officers is able to communicate by sign. How should the man be handcuffed?

Answer #4

Unless there is an identifiable safety concern, the man should be handcuffed in the front so that he may effectively communicate with officers.

Hypothetical #5

Officers respond to a home where they must serve a civil order on a subject who is hearing impaired. What steps should the officers take in communicating the order to the individual so that proper notice of the order is received?

Answer #5

As long as the subject can read, officers should write notes to the individual and have the individual respond to the notes. Officer may maintain the notes as evidence that the order was properly served.

Hypothetical #6

Upon stopping a vehicle the officer observes that the auto has a handicapped-privilege designation (handicap plate or other marking). How does this impact the stop?

Answer #6

The only impact at the outset is one of awareness. The officer or deputy should recognize that the person may be impaired in such a manner that may alter ordinary response and practices in a car stop.


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