I read an article earlier today about people with Autism and interactions with law enforcement. It was titled, “For People with Autism, Encounters Can Turn Dangerous”. I see where they are coming from, but still I think the article’s title is maybe a little offensive and misleading. Maybe “offensive” is too strong of a word, but hear me out. I kind of feel that the title is generalizing. To me, it says “ALL people with Autism might have dangerous encounters with police”. This is not the case. I have never had any run-ins with the law, except for one little mistake when I graduated High School.
So you might be asking, “OK Tom. What happened when you graduated High School?” Well, I was in a public park with a friend of mine in Baltimore City smoking a cigarette. This woman comes up to us with her kid and goes, “Oh my God! I cannot believe you are doing that stuff in public!” and called 911. This woman thought we were smoking joints, so she called the police on us. The cops showed up and you know what they did? Literally NOTHING! They show up, see that they are cigarettes–which are legal–and leave.
So I am not too thrilled about the undertones and vibes I get from this article. NOW is that saying people with Autism are never going to have dangerous encounters with law enforcement? No, not by any means. Statistically, sadly, people with Autism are likely to have interactions with law enforcement. It has had terrible and disastrous results. Some people I know are kind of intimidating–tall, muscular, and low-verbal. So they cannot tell police how to handle them. And that is NOT belittling anyone. That’s just a statement and fact. I know full well that police officers can be intimidating in and of themselves. They have weapons and body cameras. My best friend is a Baltimore City police officer and he is the one of the nicest people I have ever known.
Police are there to help. I am not one to say “you need to do your job the way I tell you to” but I do think my perspective can be valuable. Obviously, I am not the only person who thinks that, because my job recently expanded from hospital staff to police. I know police need to take control of the situation, but unfortunately, that is where things can potentially turn ugly. What I am suggesting and not TELLING you do as police is take just a few seconds to assess the situation. Also I recently found out that they have tags for shoes with all your information embedded in it, similar to a Medic Alert bracelet. So all the cop has to do is scan the tag with their phone and they can find out the individual’s name, residence, diagnosis, age, whatever… That to me is amazing!
But I do think it is a misconception that people with Autism will have negative encounters with police in some form or another. I think it is due to all the negativity surrounding the Autism community in general. It is a shame all the flak the Autism community gets. Unfortunately, there is a kernel of truth here, though. People with Autism statistically are more likely to run away from home. Therefor, interactions with police can be expected. However, I feel that people with Autism like me, my girlfriend, and a few of my friends, if we were ever stopped by a police officer and asked, would be able to say, “Hi Officer. My name is ________ and I live ______________”. Cops get into contact with the families, families get the individual and that’s the end of it. But what about non-verbal or low-verbal people on the Spectrum? This is when things can take a turn for the worse.
Now I mentioned I do law enforcement trainings for work occasionally. However, I can’t speak for the entire Autism community when it comes to law enforcement, or anything else for that matter. I know how I am but nobody else. I am perfectly capable of handling conversation with medical staff and police. I am nervous, but I can do it. I know this is a great opportunity for me and possibly the people I am talking to, but you have to take into account I am just talking about myself. I cannot tell medical professionals or law enforcement how to do their jobs. That is not my intention. I intend to educate and entertain and not boss people around and tell them what to do.
So in closing, I think this article has what I am calling a “half-valid point”. I want to hear from you guys. What do you think? I have attached a link to the article so you can read it and judge for yourselves since, again, I am not one to tell you what to do or how to think. This is just my personal opinion and I want to thank you for listening to what I have to say.