Autistic People and the Police
By Detective Chief Inspector Dion Brown, Metropolitan Police Service and Sean Kennedy, Barrister.
Anna Kennedy Online and the Metropolitan Police Service are soon to publish a document entitled: Stop and Search – Guidance for Autistic People.
Many stakeholders have contributed to this document. It is designed to be a neutral look at a high-profile procedure used by the police and how it should be used sensitively, appropriately, and professionally with autistic people. It also looks at what can be done if these high standards are not adhered to.
One area explored in the document is the role of the police when autistic people are victims of crime. Whilst it is certainly the case that some progress has been made in achieving autism acceptance throughout society, regrettably there is much work to be done.
One unwelcome reality of modern life which proves that we have not crossed the inclusion finishing line is the existence of Disability Hate Crime. Simply put these are attacks against disabled people because they are disabled. Often, they can be perpetrated by people close to a disabled person. The effects of such attacks can be devastating for a disabled person. Further, the evidence suggests that disability hate crimes and hate incidents are less likely to be reported.
The police are aware of how the victims of disability hate crime can be left traumatised and feeling isolated. It is because of this that a clear part of their mission is to react to and be proactive when it comes to such crimes or incidents.
Whilst it would be far better if disabled people were not subject to such reprehensible behaviour, the police are keen to make clear that there is a low threshold for them becoming involved. Where autistic people are victims, they at least can be assured that they are not alone and that at the very least the police will follow through and investigate should an autistic person seek their support.
It is also important to realise that the involvement of autistic people in the police service should not only be seen in terms of them being the victims of this kind of appalling hate crime. Autistic people have, are and will continue to be an important and integral part of the police service.
Applications from autistic people to become a police officer are certainly welcomed. That said, it is important that any autistic person thinking of becoming a police officer be aware that selection standards are challenging. It is not a reasonable adjustment to insist that standards be lowered either during the selection process or when on duty. What is also true is that there highly valued police officers who are autistic.
World Autism Day is described as an annual celebration of autistic people to raise awareness of developmental disorders and neurodivergence. Many people and organisations use this valuable opportunity, and this is to be welcomed.
It may not be obvious to many people, but part of this movement is the police service who accept that their job may not be finished. But there is no doubt that autistic people have every reason to be assured that they are both listened to by the police and can, like everyone else in society, possibly become part of this essential service.