Published date: 
Wednesday, December 1, 2021


Earlier this year the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability commissioned the research project, Police Responses to People with Disability. The research was conducted by CCLJ members, Simone Rowe and Eileen Baldry, together with Leanne Dowse and Michael Baker (UNSW). Harry Blagg (UWA) and Kathy Ellem (UQ) were also part of the research team. Research partners and advisors were the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, National Ethnic Disability Alliance, Superintendent Greg Moore (NSW Police), Monique Hitter and Susannah O’Reilly (Legal Aid NSW). CCLJ member, Peta MacGillivray, was the First Nations research advisor.


The research laid bare systemic and widespread problems with police reactions to people with disability who are victim/ survivors and alleged ‘offenders’. Key findings include:

  • Police violence and repression against people with disability is enabled by (1) the use of policing as the default institutional response to the social, cultural and economic forms of disadvantage that propel people with disability into contact with the police; and (2) the reduction of funding for appropriate social and human services.
  • First Nations people with disability experience intensified negative consequences of policing.
  • Improving police responses demands recognition that what people with disability require is not a police or criminal justice response, but rather, a trauma-informed, culturally safe, community-based and holistic social service response.
  • Diversionary options such as the Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program and the decolonisation of diversion must be expanded and developed.
  • Investment in First Nations-led, self-determined, local community driven initiatives is imperative.
  • Long-overdue investment in community-driven social and human services such as housing, health and disability-related supports is essential.
  • There is an urgent need to divest funds from police and invest in successful initiatives such as CAHOOTS that provide community-driven alternatives to police as first responders.


Read the research report here.


Simone Rowe and Michael Baker will present a paper, ‘Policing disability and disadvantage’ at the December 2021 ANZSOC Conference that extends the findings from the above research by considering the theoretical and political alignment of this research with intersecting movements like Defund the Police, Black Lives Matter and Disability Justice. The paper has a particular focus on strategies that can build alliances across the full range of minoritised groups subject to harmful and violent policing in order to progress initiatives that divest funds from police and invest in alternatives to policing and community care.