In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between police and autistic people. When cops encounter autistic people they may not respond in the same way as NT people, and things can get out of hand. Among other things, they may misinterpret autistic behavior as aggressive or defiant, and respond with tasers, batons, chokeholds, or worse.
Posts have discussed incidents in the following places:
- Richmond, VA
- Jackson County, KS
- Glynn County, GA
- Douglas County, CO
- Graymoor-Devondale, KY
- Vacaville, CA
- Metrairie, LA
- Salt Lake City
- Statesville, NC
- Buckeye, AZ
The Justice Department has a report titled Investigation of the Louisville Metro Police Department and Louisville Metro Government. It finds that the police and the metro government discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.
In some cases, officers’ animosity toward people with behavioral health disabilities may have led to a worsening of their mental health symptoms. According to stakeholders, the treatment faced by these individuals is not uncommon. Stakeholders told us about officers making jokes about mental illness, taunting individuals in crisis, and treating unhoused individuals with “disdain.” Unnecessary and inappropriate LMPD involvement also can also lead to avoidable arrests and incarceration, which carries unique risks for people with behavioral health disabilities.LMPD officers sometimes arrest people on multiple, redundant criminal charges, even when it is clear that the person is experiencing behavioral health problems. In one incident, officers were dispatched to a white woman who was having thoughts of self-harm, a typical scenario that can often be handled by a behavioral health response such as a mobile crisis team. Upon officers’ arrival, she was clearly experiencing illogical, disorganized thinking and delusions. The officer approached her quickly, closely, and confrontationally. She stated that she wanted to go to prison, spit in the direction of the officer, and, several minutes later, gave the officer a very light push. The officer aggressively handcuffed her and told her that she was “acting like a child” and that “quite a bit is wrong with” her. The officer arrested her and charged her with menacing, giving false identifying information, and disorderly conduct. Officers once again encountered this woman in April 2022 while she was experiencing a crisis and took her to the hospital. During this interaction, one officer stated: “They could have handled that with a social worker, right?”
Similarly, our review of body-worn camera footage revealed that LMPD officers frequently escalate situations rather than de-escalate them. Officers frequently fail to give people experiencing crisis time or space, do not engage in verbal de-escalation for enough time to be successful, and shout orders rather than speaking calmly.77 Additionally, in some videos we witnessed LMPD officers rapidly surrounding individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis with weapons drawn and failing to designate an officer to be the primary communicator. Both tactics tend to escalate rather than de-escalate the situation. In some cases, officers’ escalation of the behavioral health crisis led to increased safety risks to themselves and the person in crisis and increased the likelihood of the use of force. At other times, officers’ behavior toward people may have created the entire crisis. What we saw was confirmed more broadly by community stakeholders. For example, one service provider stated, “Things don’t end well when LMPD gets involved.”