(More Than Just) Coffee with a Cop

Coffee (and muffins!) with TWO Cops and the Atlanta Citizen Review Board
Coffee (and muffins!) with TWO Cops and the Atlanta Citizen Review Board

Each month, our Adult Program staff focuses on a new topic to help participants have a more holistic life. This curriculum addresses issues related to health, safety, and human rights, as recommended by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

A recent topic was knowing your rights as a citizen if you’re ever in a situation involving the police. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, police officers are legally required to make “reasonable modifications” that take into account a person’s disability. But what if the officer isn’t aware of a person’s disability? Headlines have shown how quickly an already tense situation can escalate, even when the police are aware of a person’s disability.

Enter the Atlanta Citizen Review Board. The ACRB is an independent city agency created “to provide citizen oversight of misconduct accusations against sworn members of the police and corrections departments in the City of Atlanta.” Investigating is just one aspect of what the ACRB does. They also mediate and educate, which is what led to ACRB’s connection with the Frazer Center.

The ACRB gives presentations to help “[promote] public confidence in law enforcement and [lessen] the possibility that future incidents of urban unrest will occur.” It was at one of these presentations with a group of social workers that an attendee asked ACRB Executive Director Lee Reid what, if anything, does the ACRB do with the disabled population. Reid had no personal experience with people with disabilities and admitted that this was an area that the agency had not considered yet. The social worker provided a list of organizations that the ACRB might reach out to, and Frazer was one of them.

Our Adult Program Coordinator Rocia Terry and other Frazer staff had a preliminary meeting with ACRB staff to discuss possible ways to adapt their communication style to more effectively reach our participants. For example, could there be visual and experiential teachings added to their standard written and oral presentation?

Charles Curry of ACRB chatting with Kim, Adult Program participant
Charles Curry of ACRB chatting with Kim, Adult Program participant

Then the ACRB reached out to the Atlanta Police Department to coordinate “Coffee with a Cop” here at Frazer. More than a social event, this round-table discussion brought together Frazer staff and adult participants with Atlanta police officers and ACRB staff. This was Reid’s first opportunity to hear individuals with disabilities share their stories about encounters with the police. He found it touching and eye-opening.

One big takeaway for Reid was, “How could police respond to a person who may not have ID? Is there an ID system that can be created that would let an officer know this person has a developmental disability” while still maintaining the individual’s right to privacy? If so, then the officer will know to modify his or her approach to help diffuse the situation. The round-table participants tossed around ideas, and more conversations need to happen on a wider level. But the ball is in motion.

Rocia is working to keep that ball rolling. She’s hoping to do quarterly events with the APD and ACRB to continue building relationships between our participants and the law enforcement community. Reid says, “At the end of the day, it’s about being able to connect with community organizations to increase the conversation about how the police can better serve community members.” And for the Frazer Center, as we work to foster inclusive communities, we are thrilled to be at the table.