Richland County sheriff’s deputies are getting out of their "cop mentality" and learning how to better work with students with disabilities, thanks to a new school resource officer disability policy.
The policy, unveiled Tuesday, includes training deputies in how to recognize students with emotional, physical or intellectual disabilities, and lays out procedures for how school resource officers are to handle students with disabilities in times of crisis. The collaboration with school district allows employees and administrators to share vital information about a student's disability with school resource officers.
"When they have issues, we need to understand what those issues are and how we need to treat them accordingly," Sheriff Leon Lott said. "We think as cops. Twenty-first century policing now is getting us out of that cop mentality and letting us understand that there's other ways to deal with situations and people that don't involve putting handcuffs on them and making an arrest."
The policy, which all 86 Richland County school resource officers have been trained in starting this school year, lays out the federal guidelines for what constitutes physical or mental impairment. The core of the policy is a three-tier approach for how deputies assess whether or not a student poses a significant threat to the safety of their self or the school environment.
"Just listening to some of the descriptions they were giving today, it sounds like they have a very comprehensive approach in dealing with students with disabilities, because it is a large category," said Ali Cato, administrator for evaluation and IT training centers for Vocational Rehabilitation in West Columbia. "Our population is made up of all types of different people, and our law enforcement are here to serve those people. So the more knowledge they have about the different types of abilities and disabilities those people serve, it can only make for the best situation."