The Arc of Texas Provides Input on Law Enforcement Training Needs

The Arc of Texas Senior Specialist, Mental Health & Criminal Justice Kirk Noaker was invited to provide testimony to the Texas Senate Committee on Finance on February 9, 2023.

Dear Chair Huffman and members:

My name is Kirk Noaker, Sr. I’ve spent over 20 years in law enforcement, served as a County Magistrate Judge, and currently serve on a Commission on Jail Standards subcommittee and I’m a Collaborative Counsel member of the Judicial Commission on Mental Health. I’m testifying before you today as a Policy Specialist for The Arc of Texas. The Arc of Texas promotes, protects, and advocates for the human rights and self-determination of Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
All too often, a person with IDD’s interactions with law enforcement have unintended consequences. Crises result in unfortunate arrests, with the flawed intake process in our jails resulting in further adverse outcomes.

At The Arc we are concerned about:

  1. Improving how peace officers interact with those with IDD, and
  2. The abuse and neglect of those with IDD in our jails

With these factors in mind, we propose the following to the committee:

  1. Require training on how to effectively communicate with persons with IDD, and
  2. Require a more robust intake screening process in our jails

Training for Law Enforcement

When law enforcement comes into contact with a person with IDD who’s experiencing a crisis, the police officer has limited resources. Officers are not adequately trained or equipped to effectively communicate with those with IDD who are in crisis, often resulting in arrest and transport to the local jail. Law enforcement may have the best intentions yet lack the skills to effectively communicate with individuals with IDD. This committee may want to consider requiring TCOLE, with additional funding, to develop IDD-specific training for peace officers.

Jail Intake

When a person with IDD is arrested, ideally, they are identified as such during the jail intake process. In recent years, improvements have been made in identifying people experiencing a mental health crisis in our jails. However, the process is woefully unequipped to aid jailers in identifying a person who is intellectually disabled, often resulting in harm to the prisoner. Funding to the Commission on Jail Standards should include a requirement to promulgate through rulemaking to screen for IDD in arrestees during the intake process.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the committee today. I welcome any and all questions.