Denver Sheriff and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Denver Sheriff Department is not completely blind to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as it appears the agency could be with some of the abuse allegations lately.

Responding to my public records request under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, the Denver Sheriff provided me with documents related to mental health training and accommodations made in compliance with the ADA.  I made the public records request because of the troubling, to put it mildly, allegations in the press that the Denver Sheriff used their Tasers to inflict pain, some of whom are mentally ill.1 Noelle Phillips, Denver Jail’s Taser Use At Odds With Federal Guidelines, Post Finds, Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26846770/denver-jails-taser-use-at-odds-federal-guidelines?source=rss.

I have argued in a previous post on this website 2 Joe Thomas, Denver Sheriff’s Taser Use on the Mentally Ill, Colorado Common Law, http://cocommonlaw.com/2014/11/denver-sheriff-taser-mentally-ill/. and on my Arizona Common Law website 3 Joe Thomas, Police Have Affirmative Duty to Accommodate Disabilities, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/03/police-affirmative-duty-accommodate-disabilities/; See also Joe Thomas, The Police’s Duty to Accommodate Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/02/police-duty-accommodate-americans-disabilities-act/. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act4 The Americans with Disabilities Act,  Title II Public Services, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et. seq. creates a  duty in which law enforcement must proactively make reasonable accommodations for known individuals with qualifying disabilities.5 A qualifying disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”  The Americans with Disabilities Act, Definitions, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A).

Provided with all the documentation related to my request (except for the course materials which would need to be printed for me at an extra charge), I think this should give a good overview of how the Denver Sheriff approaches mental health issues and disabilities in general.

Denver Sheriff Department Order – Inmates with Disabilities, Americans with Disabilities Act

One of documents provided to me is the Denver Sheriff’s written guidelines on the ADA.  It is provided in its entirety below.

The ADA is surprising complex legislation because courts have narrowly interpreted the legislation, forcing Congress to go back and amend the legislation in 2008; the Department of Justice to create ADA Standards for Accessible Design in 2010; with more proposed changes in the works6 Regulations Under Development, ADA.Gov, http://www.ada.gov/newproposed_regs.htm. The ADA guidelines are meant for the Denver Sheriff Deputies to understand the law and apply it out in the field.  Viewing the document from the vantage point that it is not supposed to convey every nuance of the law, but give the Denver Sheriff a practical guide in how to apply it in their everyday dealings.

Mental Health?

The one of the first sections of the Denver Sheriff Department Order on ADA provides working definitions.7 Denver Sheriff Department Order, Inmates with Disabilities / Americans with Disabilities Act, last updated Dec. 2013.

Physical or mental impairment – includes but is not limited to: such contagious and non-contagious diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease (whether sympotmatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

What is notable about this definition is not what it contains, but what it does not contain — mental illness.  I know the definition includes emotional illness, but to me it is an improper catch-all term for mental health and mental illness.

This is a big deal to me and it should be a big deal to the Denver Sheriff too considering how many people in the criminal justice system have mental illnesses.

The Colorado Department of Corrections reports 31% of male inmates and 71% of female inmates have mental health needs (the Colorado Department of Corrections does not seem to report what level of mental health need, just that there is a need)8 Inmate Population Profile, Colorado Department of Corrections, http://www.doc.state.co.us/inmate-population-profile (last visited, Dec. 3, 2014) .  Roughly 1/3rd of all inmates in the Colorado Department of Corrections have some sort of mental health need that is noted by the state, but the Denver Sheriff does not even go to the trouble to list it as a possible impairment. It is probably important to note the Colorado Department of Corrections does not have any public statistics on emotional illnesses in their inmate populations.  One takeaway from this is since each entity is using different terminology, the statistics can not be studied across government agencies in Colorado.

Furthermore, the federal government suggests that 20% of individuals in America have experienced a mental health issue.9 Mental Health Myths and Facts, MentalHealth.gov, http://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/index.html (last visited Dec. 3, 2014).

ADA Coordinator

The guidelines the Denver Sheriff has an ADA Coordinator.  This is interesting.  It seems like a proactive, affirmative duty, sort of step that law enforcement should take.  “The ADA Coordinator shall be responsible for ensuring the request for reasonable accommodation/change in reasonable accommodation receives prompt consideration and resolution.10 Denver Sheriff Department Order, Inmates with Disabilities / Americans with Disabilities Act, last updated Dec. 2013. This sounds really good.  I am not sure how it works in the reality of a jail setting, but it sounds good in theory.

Denver Sheriff C.I.T. Curriculum

The second document in my public records request is the Denver Sheriff Crisis Intervention Team (C.I.T.) training curriculum.

First, I do not know how many Sheriff Deputies actually attend this training.  Do a team of five Deputies go through this training, or is the entire staff expected to go through it?  If documentation is available on this point, I will have to go back and touch base with the records coordinator to see if I can find this out.

Training appears to take a full week and challenge deputies from different aspects, lectures, role playing, etc.   This appears to be a certification course (because at the end of the training, it notes certificates).  It is unclear if anyone who participates receives a certificate, or if there some sort of test one must pass first.

There is not a whole lot else discernible from this sheet.

Denver Police Level One C.I.T. Course Schedule

Level one is presumably the first level in multiple levels of Denver Police Crisis Intervention Team (C.I.T.) curriculum.  No other course schedules from the Denver Police Department were provided from my public records request.  Perhaps again, I may have to go back and touch base with the records coordinator to see if there is more available.

This is also a week long course.  Although in this class it appears there is a written test before the class ends.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Noelle Phillips, Denver Jail’s Taser Use At Odds With Federal Guidelines, Post Finds, Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26846770/denver-jails-taser-use-at-odds-federal-guidelines?source=rss.
2. Joe Thomas, Denver Sheriff’s Taser Use on the Mentally Ill, Colorado Common Law, http://cocommonlaw.com/2014/11/denver-sheriff-taser-mentally-ill/.
3. Joe Thomas, Police Have Affirmative Duty to Accommodate Disabilities, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/03/police-affirmative-duty-accommodate-disabilities/; See also Joe Thomas, The Police’s Duty to Accommodate Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Arizona Common Law, http://azcommonlaw.com/2014/02/police-duty-accommodate-americans-disabilities-act/.
4. The Americans with Disabilities Act,  Title II Public Services, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et. seq.
5. A qualifying disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”  The Americans with Disabilities Act, Definitions, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A).
6. Regulations Under Development, ADA.Gov, http://www.ada.gov/newproposed_regs.htm.
7, 10. Denver Sheriff Department Order, Inmates with Disabilities / Americans with Disabilities Act, last updated Dec. 2013.
8. Inmate Population Profile, Colorado Department of Corrections, http://www.doc.state.co.us/inmate-population-profile (last visited, Dec. 3, 2014)
9. Mental Health Myths and Facts, MentalHealth.gov, http://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/index.html (last visited Dec. 3, 2014).

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