2017 Bruce Jansson MSW Award
Contest Winner: Crystal Bethea
Faculty Advisor: Richard Glaesser, Saint Leo University
A Safer Hampton Roads began as a proposed policy of the Hampton Police Division (HPD) in Hampton, Virginia resulting in the launch of a program under the same name. The policy idea came about in May 2015 during a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Know Your Rights event focusing on reasonable procedures and expected outcomes when law enforcement engages citizens (Dujahdin & Speed, 2015). As the parent of son on the autism spectrum, I understand the vulnerability of persons with cognitive disabilities. I thought about what might happen if my son or another intellectually disabled person was unable to comply with the instructions of a law enforcement officer. I was deeply concerned that such an encounter could possibly end in serious injury or possibly death. During the NAACP meeting I asked, “What if someone cannot comply with an officer’s commands due to cognitive issues?” To my surprise, no one had an answer. After the meeting, I spoke with Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult and asked if I could provide the HPD with information about my son. Chief Sult stated they did not have a system in place for this and directed me to Lieutenant Scott Keller. I shared my concerns with Lt. Keller and we discussed how to best proceed. From that first meeting until its launch in November 2016, Lt. Keller and I worked to establish the ‘A Safer Hampton Roads’ program. Purpose of Policy The policy’s purpose is to increase the safety of vulnerable persons with cognitive disabilities in the community whenever they interact with law enforcement officers – especially since these persons may have difficulty communicating with and/or responding to the commands of law enforcement officers.
Parents or guardians of vulnerable minor children, and legally competent vulnerable adults can choose to voluntarily register with the HPD to participate in the program. HPD is provided with the minor child’s/adult’s name, emergency contact information, specific disability(ies), medication(s), and other pertinent information. The information is accessible only to, and used by, local police and emergency first responders to identify, better serve, and determine needed supports during an emergency or critical incident.
Estimated Number of Persons Affected by Your Project
A Safer Hampton Roads has the potential to affect over 170,000 persons with disabilities (no distinction of disability type) living in the Hampton Roads area, including 15,000 persons with disabilities under 18 years, 88,000 between 18 and 64 years of age, and 67,000 who are 65 years and over (U. S. Census Bureau, 2012). Additionally, the policy has the potential to impact the families and friends of persons with disabilities, and extended community members (e.g., law enforcement officers and emergency first responders).
Expected Outcomes of Your Efforts
The policy’s goal is to significantly increase positive outcomes for all individuals whenever law enforcement officers must interact with its vulnerable citizens. The program’s success has led to efforts for expanding it to neighboring jurisdictions within the Hampton Roads area. The program has also come to the attention of state legislators, Delegate Jeion Ward and Senator Mamie Locke. Both are reviewing the program’s merits with the expected outcome of introducing a bill during the 2018 legislative session. If the proposed bill is passed by Virginia’s General Assembly, then all police departments within the Commonwealth of Virginia must comply with and implement the new law.
What You Learned About Policy Making
A Safer Roads Program provided many learning opportunities. As a Master in Social Work student, this experience directly exposed the dimensions and transactional relationships associated with general systems theory. Recent events involving law enforcement throughout the country at the macro level revealed a potential misunderstanding of persons with disabilities at the micro level. As a parent, I understood it was necessary to work together with police and community members to seek changes ensuring the safety and social justice of a vulnerable group (i.e., persons with cognitive disabilities). Despite the larger societal perception of some regarding law enforcement, I was determined to work with the HPD to effect positive change. Also, the HPD saw the policy’s value for furthering their efforts to protect and serve Hampton citizens. The program’s success also helped me understand the importance of establishing partnerships within the political community so that this policy and program could accomplish even greater good.
Dujardin, P., & Speed, Ashley. (2015, May 3). Crime and legal issues: NAACP sponsors know your rights forum. Daily Press. Retrieved from http://www.dailypress.com/news/crime/dp-nws-crime-notebook- 0503-20150503- story.html /S. Census Bureau. (2012).
American Community Survey. Retrieved from / http://www.hrpdcva.gov/uploads/docs/Social%20Characteristics.pdf