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Justice Dept. Files Statement of Interest in D.C. Police-Response Suit

The U.S. Department of Justice today filed a statement of interest in Bread for the City v. District of Columbia, a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that the District’s reliance on police officers as the default responders to mental health emergencies violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA requires public entities to afford people with mental health disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from emergency response systems, according to a press release from the Office of Public Affairs. To avoid ADA violations, police departments may need to dispatch a different type of response to mental-health emergencies when appropriate, such as mobile crisis teams staffed with behavioral health professionals, to avoid discrimination based on disability. “Sending mobile-crisis response teams to mental health emergencies when appropriate is akin to sending EMTs to a reported heart attack,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.


The department’s statement of interest clarifies that Title II of the ADA applies to all services, programs and activities provided or made available by public entities, including emergency response systems. Public entities must make reasonable modifications to afford people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their programs, services, and activities, including dispatching a different type of response to an emergency call when necessary to avoid discrimination based on disability. Last May, the Justice Department and Department of Health & Human Services issued guidance for Emergency Responses to People with Behavioral Health or Other Disabilities. In addition, the department recently concluded investigations in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, in which it found, in part, that the emergency-response systems discriminated against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to calls for assistance.

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