“Respect is Universal”: Olmsted County Taps Person-Centered Training

February 2023
Two sheriff's deputies talk at the intake desk in the Olmsted County jail in Minnesota. The seated deputy is looking at DirectCourse training on his computer.

After decades working in law enforcement and years spent volunteering with Special Olympics, Capt. Macey Tesmer knew that if for some reason her young relative with Down syndrome ever got arrested or had to face police questioning, the relative would have a very difficult time answering in a way that many officers expect.

“Getting arrested is stressful for anyone, and for someone with disabilities it’s just that much more challenging,” said Tesmer, operations captain for the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office. Tesmer also understands how officers can become frustrated when working with detainees who don’t seem to want to cooperate.

To improve officers’ understanding about disability, Olmsted’s Adult Detention Center has a dedicated team of 15 detention deputies trained in working with people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). Most of them have loved ones with disabilities or previous experience in the disability field. On just about every work shift, there is someone on the team available to respond to people with disabilities.

Sgt. Aaron Budensiek, who has a teenage son with autism, helps direct the team and assisted Capt. Tesmer to advocate last year for some additional training resources from the Institute on Community Integration that explain disability history and the social services system.

“I look at it as, the more tools and training we have, the better,” Budensiek said.

The training is part of DirectCourse , an online learning management system developed by ICI’s Research and Training Center on Community Living through a partnership with Elsevier that helps professionals and families support people with disabilities. DirectCourse is available to organizations and states across the country, and is currently available to Minnesota organizations through the Minnesota Department of Human Services .

ICI is providing support and technical assistance to the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office to organize the content into training modules most useful to law enforcement personnel, including person-centered approaches, disability advocacy, and mental health support.

“Our work to build this team started four or five years ago when one of our employees, who had worked in the disability field, saw a booking officer grow frustrated when an arrestee wasn’t responding to questions,” said Tesmer. “We all had to learn that there just might be some information we’re not going to get right away, and that a typical 20-minute booking might take two hours to get through if we’re trying to do it with as little trauma as possible.”

ICI’s Claire Benway and Nicole Duchelle, a former Olmsted County staffer who was a trainer in person-centered practices there, curated the learning modules from the extensive offerings county employees can access through DirectCourse.

“When people with disabilities come into contact with law enforcement, they often come with a long history of being mistreated or not being seen as a person, and Olmsted County recognized this and wanted to better understand that perspective,” said Duchelle. “The County has always been innovative in using person-centered practices, so it is really nice to see this work taking root in law enforcement.”

While the content was initially designed for support professionals working with people with disabilities, law enforcement personnel can use it as a jumping-off point to discuss scenarios specific to the criminal justice process, Benway said.

“It’s really about developing relationships and treating all people well, including those with disabilities,” Duchelle said. “Respect is universal.”