At ALLY Advocacy Center, we repeatedly hear parents worry about what happens to their child if they have an outburst in school or in other public places. What happens if they have a tantrum or inadvertently break a law they do not understand. Or, if the person with a disability feels unsafe and their caregiver is not there. The question of “What happens when the police are called?” has always caused anxiety. Sadly, Virginia has recently been ranked #1 in the nation in school-based arrests, with children with disabilities disproportionately represented. We have seen what happens when the worst case scenario becomes reality—a person with a disability interacts with law enforcement and ends up arrested and in jail. Once people with disabilities end up in the justice system—arrested, jailed, or committed—it is tragic.
At ALLY, we have started to think PREVENTION! As a result, the PILE initiative was created to approach this issue with a multi-faceted approach. We are focusing on: law enforcement training, parent training, developing safety curriculum for students with disabilities in school, training for adults with disabilities in the community, training for lawyers in the criminal justice system, and increased training for all First Responders.
Our latest step involves training the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office 911 Dispatchers. Sergeant Linda Cerniglia explains the collaboration, “We partnered up with The Arc of Loudoun about 18 months ago. We run our CIT [Crisis Intervention Team] Deputies through The Arc, we have a guest speaker talking about what autism is and we are currently doing 911 dispatcher training – so that our law enforcement officers actually know how to react when they see someone with autism. Education is power. The more the law enforcement learns the better response we can give to citizens of Loudoun County.”
Two programs at The Arc of Loudoun: ALLY Advocacy Center and The Aurora School have been integral in designing curricula for students with autism and other developmental disabilities, training materials for families and law enforcement. Kendra McDonald, Program Director at The Aurora School says, “We are teaching our students at The Aurora School at The Arc of Loudoun how to interact with law enforcement officers and now we are teaching law enforcement on our students and ways to try to get information from our students. For example, our students are learning how to respond and convey their basic information such as their name, phone number and address, whether they are able to talk about it or whether they use sign language, their iPads, pictures or some kind of identification on them. And we are teaching the law enforcement officers how to seek out that information from people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.”
To help this charge, The Arc of Loudoun is pleased to announce it has received $50,000 from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation to help jump start the program. We also received a $2,000 Pathways to Justice™ grant from its national organization, The Arc of the U.S. Created by The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD) in 2013, Pathways to Justice is a first-of-its kind training initiative. It strives to form strong and lasting partnerships between criminal justice and disability professionals that address service gaps encountered by people with disabilities and their families within the criminal justice arena. We have formed the county’s first Disability Response Team (DRT) to help coordinate a multidisciplinary training and be the point of contact when these types of cases come into the system. The members of the DRT include representatives from: the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Juvenile Detention Center, The Department of Juvenile Probation, The Public Defender’s Office, Family Advocates, Self-Advocates and Disability Advocates.
In May 2018, The Arc of Loudoun hosted a free training called, Pathways to Justice. Located at Ida Lee Recreation Center in Leesburg, Virginia, this training is for those working in the criminal justice system, including: law enforcement, attorneys, victim/witness services, disability advocates and families.