Symptoms of autism can sometimes be hard to identify in situations where officers have to make decisions in potentially dangerous situations. Even with training this can be the case, but without training on autism for officers, these symptoms and behaviors exhibited by autistic individuals can be mistaken for alcohol and drug related issues. If there is nobody else around who understands the individual’s condition, police can sometimes mistake the behaviors of these individuals and not realize that they are actually autistic, leading to false arrests or sometimes even harsher consequences. In early November, it was announced that in Tybee Island, GA the city’s insurer would pay $250,000 to 18-year-old Clifford Grevemberg after he was tased outside of a bar by two police officers. They claim that Grevemberg appeared drunk and after being confronted by the police officers, he became agitated. After being tased twice, Grvemberg fell to the pavement, receiving a broken tooth and scrapes on his face and knees. Here are two links to articles about this incident:
Another incident that can help illustrate the need for autism training for law enforcement happened in Eugene Oregon. On October 18th, a lone man walked into Sharon O’Leary’s apartment and went straight into her room. O’Leary says she followed him after telling the man he had the wrong home and found him sitting down in her room eating potato chips. Thinking the man was on drugs, O’Leary called the police who responded to the call by four officers coming to her home. They ordered the man to show himself, causing him to exit the room momentarily, then returning to the room with objects clenched in both hands. This prompted the police to enter the room and wrestle the man to the floor, requiring the use of a taser gun three times as the man resisted being handcuffed. Once the man was subdued, it was observed that the objects held in his hands were in fact two plastic toys. Even while these officers were trained in recognizing and handling with individuals with developmental disorders, in this situation it was considered a textbook tasering. As they did not know what the objects were he was holding, they had to make fast decisions to handle the situation with the limited knowledge they had. Here is a link to the article written on this story:
These stories only highlight the sensitivity of the issue in regards to police interactions with autistic individuals. Training is necessary to help minimize occurrences of mistreatment due to being uneducated with this population. As such, there are departments actively educating their law enforcement forces but incidences still tend to arise unfortunately.