According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 59 children in the United States has autism spectrum disorder. About 1 in 6 children has severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition, people with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violent crime. However, roughly one-third to almost half of all people killed by law enforcement suffer from a disability.
Dealing With the Differences
Many police officers have difficulties dealing with people with autism or other differences. Most of this is due to a lack of appropriate training. This situation was brought to the forefront in the summer of 2019 when an off-duty police officer shot and killed a man who was nonverbal and developmentally disabled. Most police officers don’t understand the symptoms of conditions like autism and other mental disabilities. They look at behaviors such as self-stimulation, delusions, anxiety, and anger as criminal behavior.
Not a Crime
It is critical that police officers are trained that having a mental disability is not a crime. Police departments across the country are now finding that they have a problem when it comes to how they deal with the disabled. Many are now conducting Crisis Intervention Training, which is conducted by mental health experts. This training can help police officers recognize the symptoms of autism and learn practical ways to approach individuals with a mental disability. The officers can learn how to deescalate a situation rather than making matters worse. During this training, police officers should also be taught that not everyone with autism behaves in the same manner, and they should be prepared for any situation.
Training that encourages police officers to interact with the autism community can be especially helpful in gaining a better understanding of the disorder. Communicating with families and advocates can help police officers gain perspective. A real-life connection to individuals with disabilities can bridge the communication gap and lead to better encounters.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.