The Arc of Loudoun and Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Partner for Positive Interactions with Law Enforcement Initiative
Leesburg, Virginia, September 22, 2016 – The Arc of Loudoun, with a winning partnership with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, is helping lead the way forward in positive interactions with law enforcement and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The question of “What happens when the police are called?” has always caused anxiety for parents of children with intellectual and development disabilities. In a report published by the Center for Public Integrity, Virginia has recently been ranked #1 in the nation in school-based arrests, with children with disabilities disproportionately represented. At ALLY Advocacy Center on Paxton Campus, we have started to think prevention. As a result, the Positive Interactions with Law Enforcement “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 Paxton Campus about 18 months ago. We run our CIT [Crisis Intervention Team] Deputies through Paxton, 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 on Paxton Campus: 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 on Paxton Campus 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 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.
Melissa Heifetz is the Administrative Director of ALLY Advocacy Center on Paxton Campus and initiator of the PILE Program, “We want to collaborate with people on all sides of the criminal justice system. We have formed an amazing partnership with Sergeant Cerniglia and her team, where the CITs come to Paxton Campus once a month for a site visit. They learn how to identify and communicate with people with ID/DD. We also teach them how to deescalate crisis situations involving individuals with ID/DD. Expanding on that, we have safety training for parents, we have developed a curriculum for the students at our school, and now are training the 911 dispatchers on how to receive calls from people with ID/DD or about someone with ID/DD.” Heifetz continues. “Our next step is to train criminal attorneys to be aware that whether the individual is a defendant or a victim, they have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and may need reasonable accommodations or modifications throughout the process.”
Paxton Campus is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization that advocates for and provides direct service to adults and children with disabilities, as well as their families and caretakers, through its many programs: The Aurora School, Open Door Learning Center, ALLY Advocacy Center, STEP Up and Maggie’s Closet. Paxton’s very low 5% overhead costs mean that almost 95 cents of every donated dollar goes back to our programs.
For more information, visit www.paxtoncampus.org or contact Rachel Roseberry, Communications Coordinator of Paxton Campus, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 703.431.4279.