How Police Learn to Work with People with Autism
Over the course of the last few years, the topic of police behavior and treatment of civilians has been pushed to the forefront of conversation. Due to a few highly publicized incidents, people are examining the way police interact with the public much more closely. Though factors such as race come up many of these conversations, one thing some people don’t think about is how a police interaction may go for someone with a cognitive disorder.
Despite autism's prevalence, when surveyed in 2008, 80% of police officers could not identify main characteristics of autism. Police have a duty to keep the public safe, and they do oftentimes find themselves in risky situations. When they feel they are in danger, they react accordingly. But, multiple events in recent years have proved how important it is for officers to gain a greater understanding of autism to avoid any miscommunications that may escalate a situation to dangerous heights.
In 2013, a report disclosed that up to half of people killed by police had disabilities. Despite this shocking estimation, it’s hard to know for certain how often violence is used against people with disabilities because there is no requirement for police departments to record such data. Therefore, when examining the relationship between mental disabilities and police incidents, people have no choice but to rely on media coverage. This presents another problem. According to the authors of the report, professor David M. Perry and disability activist Lawrence Carter-Long, media coverage typically fails to properly mention the disability status of the person involved in a police altercation.
The importance of being prepared
It would certainly be ideal for all police officers to be trained to handle situations involving people with autism, but there’s a long way to go before it becomes the standard. Even when that time does come, it’s wise to be prepared for the situation, as simply undergoing training does not guarantee that the officer will understand what’s happening in a situation with someone with autism.
Autism Speaks offers some recommendations on how people with autism can best interact with police officers. One of their suggestions is to create a handout card for the person with autism to distribute to the officer. The handout card can be tailored to the individual, but should serve to inform the officer of the person’s personal information and that they have autism, and may include information on why the person may seem to be acting seemingly strange. Autism Speaks recommends working with an autism organization to create the handout card. If you do decide to create handouts for your loved one, it’s also important to review how to best communicate with an officer that you have one and want to give it to them to avoid any misunderstandings regarding sudden movements or digging in the pockets.
Handout or not, it’s important to create a plan with your loved one for how to best respond to interactions with police. This can include information like not to run away and trying to remain calm. It may seem disheartening that you have to go to these lengths, but joint effort between the public and the police is how interactions between the two will improve. It’s certainly important that police take action to increase their awareness about autism, and hopefully the trend of requiring this training will continue.
Working together is the best way to ensure that police interactions run smoothly and safely for all involved. Read on to learn more about how police are working to understand autism.