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Friday, July 29, 2016

Police and Autistic People: the Bad and the Good

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between first responders and autistic people.  Police officers need training to respond appropriately.  When they do not, things get out of hand.

An attorney for a man with autism who was placed in a psychiatric unit after witnessing another man get shot by a police officer is urging the Department of Justice to investigate the North Miami Police and state of Florida.
Matthew Dietz, the attorney for Arnaldo Rios, wrote a letter Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, claiming that Rios was placed in a facility "inappropriate for his needs" after the shooting. The Arc, a national organization that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sent a letter to the DOJ's Civil Rights Division on Thursday in support of Dietz's request for an investigation. Arc said "it is vital that Mr. Rios secures an appropriate community placement as soon as possible."
On July 18, Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist who worked with Rios at MacTown Panther Group Homes, where Rios lived, was shot and injured by a police officer while lying on the ground next to Rios. The shooting took place about 600 feet from the home. 
At The Seattle Times, editorial page editor Kate Riley recalls that Washington state troopers responded professionally and humanely when her son had a meltdown in her car.
Kinsey’s situation and my family’s were very different. In his case, police were investigating a report of a man carrying a weapon. In ours, I told the dispatcher, and the trooper, repeatedly that my son has autism, was in a highly agitated state but has never, ever been violent.

Another difference: Washington state is the only state in the nation that requires crisis-intervention training for police officers. The 2015 Washington Legislature required all commissioned peace officers to have at least eight hours of training to equip them better to deal with these complex situations.

An impetus was the tragic police shooting death of Doug Ostling, a man with mental illness and suspected autism. A federal jury awarded $1 million to Ostling’s family after concluding the city of Bainbridge Island and its police chief failed to provide adequate training to its officers.

Credit for the mandatory training goes to many but especially to state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, Sue Rahr, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission director, and Ostling’s parents, Bill and Joyce, warriors for all the families like ours, who would not rest.

As of this week, about 4,600 of the state’s 10,089 certified peace officers have received the minimum training, and the rest are expected to by July 1, 2018, three years ahead of schedule.