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Topic six - The protection of especially vulnerable groups


According to Article 2 of the 1979 Code of Conduct, "In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons." This provision is particularly relevant to law enforcement interactions with vulnerable individuals and groups, including members of ethnic minorities, women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex persons (LGBTI), and persons with disabilities. Minorities or those with mental health problems are particularly likely to come into contact with the police, and perceptions and fears (on both sides) will increase the risk that such encounters lead to use of force or even violence. In addition, children have specific rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and particular standards apply to the use of force against children (for further materials on this, see Module 12 on Violence Against Children as well as Module 13 on Justice for Children).

It is important to note, moreover, that there are considerable barriers to reporting incidents in which police are perceived to have used excessive force against vulnerable persons. Victims, in such cases, may be reluctant to report due to trauma, fear for their safety, fear that they will be arrested, a sense that reporting would be futile, or due to other structural or practical impediments, including those that stem from discrimination. In some contexts, for example, women and children are not permitted to report abuse of this kind, or, such reports are not taken seriously. For further materials on access to justice for women, children, and victims, see Module 11 on Justice for Victims; Module 9 on Gender in the Criminal Justice System; Module 12 on Violence Against Children; and Module 13 on Justice for Children. In addition to the specific forms of discrimination and violence that constitute barriers to reporting for persons from vulnerable groups, it should be noted, more generally, that effective reporting requires public trust in transparent and accountable criminal justice institutions. It is for this reason, for example, that police bodies should not have sole responsibility for investigating reports of excessive use of force by police. Module 5 on Police Accountability, Integrity, and Oversight contains further materials on oversight and investigation mechanisms that facilitate access to justice and engender public confidence in the legitimacy of law enforcement institutions and actors.

The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires States parties to "take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including ... international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk" (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006: Art. 11). However, those with disabilities are especially at risk of being subjected to use of force by law enforcement officials. In Canada, for instance, Toronto police figures for 1987-1997 indicate that people who had previously been diagnosed with a mental illness made up the third largest category of people who were shot, preceded only by those suspected of involvement in robberies and drugs (Cenzura and Federico, 1998, p. 9).

In its August 2016 report on the Baltimore Police Department, the United States Department of Justice found that officers often used excessive force against individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis: "When families in Baltimore confront a family member experiencing a mental health issue, they often call 9-1-1 to request an officer to safely escort their family member to a hospital for a mental health evaluation and, if necessary, commitment. In too many of these calls, officers arrive at the homes of families, knowing they are being called to assist with a mental health incident, without a plan to account for the mental health issue. Because of their lack of planning and proper tactics, they end up in violent confrontations with individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis and use force, sometimes deadly, against these vulnerable individuals" (US Department of Justice, 2016, p. 75).

Next: Topic seven - The use of force during assemblies
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