A proposal under review by the state Police Transparency & Accountability Task Force would establish a registry of people with disabilities, including mental illness, as part of an effort to provide information to police that could help avoid using force that could become deadly. While it seems obvious that police could benefit from this information, there are those who doubt its effectiveness and there are concerns about stigmatization and privacy rights.
As the Associated Press recently reported, almost a fourth of the near 6,000 fatal shootings by police in the U.S. since 2015 have involved those with mental illness. The statistic was from a Washington Post database.
One important aspect of the proposal is that participating in the database would be voluntary. As the AP report noted, voluntary programs across the nation are now mainly focused on helping police when it comes to dealing with those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who have gone missing.
Victoria Mitchell told the AP a registry may have made a difference when it came to her son, Michael Gregory, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ansonia a year ago. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had on several occasions attempted suicide. “They could have called someone in to de-escalate the situation,” she said.
Yet “you may just be setting things up for failure, unintended but that could be what happens,” said Kathleen Flaherty, executive director of Connecticut Legal Rights Project. Flaherty called registries a “terrible idea.”
As the AP noted, “advocates for the disabled also have concerns about the government collecting information about people’s disabilities and how long the information would be stored.”
The task force should proceed carefully and weigh the concerns, an examination that ought to include an exploration of potential “unintended consequences.”
Information that promotes understanding and that could lead to safer outcomes is worth exploring. A registry could serve as a valuable tool in police work.