Monday, December 8, 2014

Operation Introduction: A Conversation with a Cop

My first day of Operation Introduction. I introduced Nick to 2 new neighbors and that was very cool. The day ended with my spotting a police cruiser driving down our street (a rare sight on our dead end street) and my running out the door, waving it down asking if I could introduce them to my son. They stopped and were very polite, but their answers to my questions may surprise you.  

Me:  Hi. Is this the area you usually patrol?

Officer: Yes.

Me:  Great. I would like to introduce you to my special needs son just in case you run into him one day. Do you have a moment? 


I went in the house, got Nick and brought him down to the police car

Me:  Nick these are the police. Officer, what is your name? 

Officer: Hi I'm John, what's your name? 

Nick: Nick Jones 

Officer: Nice to meet you.

Nick then just stands there, hugging me, not paying much attention. 

Me:  Thank you for stopping. It's very important to me that you know him, should you ever encounter him in the community. It's not likely that he would be on his own, but he could wander.

Officer: Okay.

Me:  Have you been fortunate enough to get any training as it relates to engaging our teen children in the community?

Officer: Nope, they have trained us in how to deal with mental illness in general. 
Me:  Thinking  to myself, YIKES, I just looked at him uncertain of my next response, while Nick hugged me and twisted the end of his belt between his thumb and forefinger. 

Officer: We do have a protocol. I understand that these kids may not be "listening" to us. 

Me: I just want as many people in this area to be aware of him, so should he ever be out on his own he's safe, because he will never respond the way you need him to. 

My son would not respond to this command! 
Officer: We are trained to do what needs to be done to restrain the individual so they do not harm anyone or themselves. 

Me: As a mom I'm concerned because, it's not that my son or another person may not be listening as much as it is that they don't comprehend the command or why it's critical at that moment. My son does not have any idea what would happen if you yelled "Put your hands up", so he wouldn't do it. He's more likely to do what he's doing now - I looked down to see Nick playing with his belt - and you might think he's reaching for a gun.  That's what happened to a young man with autism who got shot downtown a few years ago.

Officer: Those situations you hear about young men being shot are because they have a gun, a knife, a sword or a toy that looks to be dangerous.

Officer: Hey Nick, nice to meet you. 

Me: Thank you officer for listening and keeping an eye out for our kids. 

This is how I interpreted our conversation:  
The police in my area are not familiar with how people with Autism may respond in a given situation, and they are going to restrain, shoot or do whatever they deem necessary, because that's what they HAVE been trained to do.  

The good news is, who's to say Officer John didn't hear or see something today that increased his awareness that may help someone's child. 


  1. Donna, thank you for this snapshot that is so terribly and horribly enlightening. The police officer who stated that the young man with autism who was shot (which he immediately and without any thought lumped in with other shootings) happened because "they have a gun, a knife, a sword or a toy that looks to be dangerous" is an apologist for the worst manifestation of policeman who is exactly the kind of officer who will shoot an unarmed person with autism and not feel any remorse. He needs to be put on desk duty. Did you get his name?

  2. I've been a police officer for over 20 years, and I'm a single mom of a child on the spectrum. It's true that police don't get a lot of training on autism. I know more than most officers do about autism because of my child. My recommendations for Donna are as follows:
    Don't rely on one random encounter with the police to introduce Nick to them. Go to the police station. Bring Nick. Introduce him to the officers there. Go more than once. Give the officers a picture of Nick with his name, your name, and your address and/or phone number and ask the Watch Commander to post it somewhere. Talk to the captain at the station. Ask about training. Offer to help. I've seen a lot of your posts and they are really good and could be used to train the officers.
    This is subject worthy of pursuing and opening a dialogue.
    Cathy Riggs

  3. I did get the officers name and I choose not to publish it. My thinking was two fold. One; this one cop was just the face on a problem that is most of our police and nothing would be gained by calling him individually. Two we need to help them help us and given the current climate we understand the problem is systemic I believe it will be up to us to make a different one police department at a time, vs waiting for change from the top down. Did I get it wrong?

  4. Cathy, thanks for commenting! I bought Karl a medic alert bracelet in bright orange and have instructed him to show it to the police if anything happens. We also tell him time and again to do WHATEVER the police tell him to do, no matter how upset he is. But I still fear for him that someday he will become so agitated and the police will think he''s dangerous and on some wild drug trip. Just one more fear in a long list for this autism mom.