Violence Prevention & Response
Being disabled isn’t a crime, though it is frequently treated by law enforcement as such. For example, a 2001 FBI report reveals that developmentally disabled people are “approximately seven times more likely to come into contact with law enforcement than others.” A 2017 study further clarifies that this “risk [is] disproportionately spread across races/ethnicities” as Black disabled people “[experience] the highest cumulative probability of arrest” (McCauley). A briefing by the Commission on Civil Rights from 2015 explains how disabled folks “represent the largest minority group within our prison and jail system” with estimations that more than 80 percent of the country’s “incarcerated population are people with one or more disabilities.” Regarding Autism specifically, one study from 2012 suggests the conservative estimate that Autism is four times more prevalent amongst incarcerated populations than the general population (Fazio et al.). With such a high probability for Autistic folks to encounter law enforcement and enter the prison system, we have developed the program Guiding Autistics with Police and Security (GAPS).
Autistic disability rights activist and attorney Lydia X. Z. Brown, in an article for the Center for Democracy and Technology, says that disabled folks are highly likely to be presumed violent by police and security. The FBI report from 2001 suggested that officers undergo training to recognize Autism in those they encounter as well as initial contact and interview techniques to more successfully interact with Autistic people. While many large departments across the country have started to offer this training, according to a 2018 article by Spectrum, most do not require their officers to attend (Furfaro). Some states such as Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania mandates this training for first responders (Kelly and Hassett-Walker). However, in New Jersey, for example, 23 percent of agencies have not complied (Kelly and Hassett-Walker). Additionally, the effectiveness of the training is questionable. A 2020 study found that those “completing [training] were no more likely to report feeling prepared to respond” to calls involving Autistics and were “more likely to use physical force” than untrained officers (Gardner and Campbell).
In the absence of effective training by law enforcement departments, Autistic people must be prepared to advocate for themselves. This is why we developed the GAPS program, to help our community members navigate these interactions as safely as possible.
Brown, Lydia X. Z. “Critical Scrutiny of Predictive Policing Is a Step to Reducing Disability Discrimination.” Center for Democracy and Technology, 23 June 2021, https://cdt.org/insights/critical-scrutiny-of-predictive-policing-is-a-step-to-reducing-disability-discrimination/.
Examining Police Practices and Use of Force. Report no. 109998, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2015, https://www.usccr.gov/files/calendar/trnscrpt/Police-Practices-and-Use-of-Force_04-20-2015.pdf
Fazio, Rachel L., et al. An Estimate of the Prevalence of Autism-Spectrum Disorders in an Incarcerated Population. Journal of Forensic Psychology, 2012, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rachel-Fazio/publication/261872792_An_estimate_of_the_prevalence_of_autism-spectrum_disorders_in_an_incarcerated_population/links/0a85e535b311b9f416000000/An-estimate-of-the-prevalence-of-autism-spectrum-disorders-in-an-incarcerated-population.pdf?origin=publication_detail.
Furfaro, Hannah. “Why Police Need Training to Interact with People on the Spectrum.” Spectrum, 6 June 2018, https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/police-need-training-interact-people-spectrum/.
Gardner, Lauren, and Jonathan M. Campbell. “Law Enforcement Officers’ Preparation for Calls Involving Autism: Prior Experiences and Response to Training.” SpringerLink, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2 Apr. 2020, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-020-04485-5.
Kelly, Edward, and Connie Hassett-Walker. “The training of New Jersey emergency service first responders in autism awareness.” Police practice & research: an international journal vol. 17, 6 (2016). The training of New Jersey emergency service first responders in autism awareness – PMC (nih.gov)
McCauley, Erin J. “The Cumulative Probability of Arrest by Age 28 Years in the United States by Disability Status, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender.” American journal of public health vol. 107,12 (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5678390/
United States, FBI. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Contact with Individuals with Autism. vol. 70, 4 (April 2001). FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin – April 2001 — LEB.