Target: Oregon State Police Department Superintendent Chris Brown
Goal: Require autism awareness training for all police officers to prevent abuse and mishandling of autistic individuals
In the early hours of June 16, 2013, an Oregon State police officer decided to taser an 11-year-old girl because she would not respond to his request to stop. She was walking along a freeway. The girl is severely autistic and has a mind of a 3-year-old. Police officers should be properly trained on how to deal with individuals with mental health issues, and should not tase them.
This girl, her name kept private, has severe autism. “Elopement behavior” – wandering away – is common among kids with this diagnosis. A study published in Pediatrics found that nearly half of autistic children have been reported missing. Police in many cities across the U.S. receive special training on how to respond to autistic children who are not following orders. For example, police in New Jersey speak in low voices and slowly. They understand that autistic children may act defiantly not because of aggression but because of fear. There is no need to scare kids even further. The Oregon girl, according to her father is “gentle and non combative,” as Infowars reported. The police officer tased the girl after she did not reply to his request to stop. Cab driver Adam Bednar, who initially saw naked girl walking down I-5 in the middle of the night and then called the police, stated that after the officer tased the 11-year-old, “she seized up, then she just fell face first on the ground.”
This troubling incident is not the first one for the Oregon Police Department. An autistic man, fascinated with shiny objects, reached to touch an officer’s badge. The officer thought that the man was aggressive and tased him. The Department of Justice found that the Oregon Police Department had a pattern of abuse and used excessive force, including tasing, on the mentally ill.
A training program can take care of this problem and equip police officers with facts about mental illness and how to handle situations when a person with autism is dangerous to himself or others. Violence only makes things worse. Urge the Oregon State Police Department to adopt such a program immediately and start training officers on how to interact people with intellectual disabilities.
Dear Mr. Brown,
The incident involving an 11-year-old autistic girl being tased by a police officer is quite troubling. It is part of the pattern of abuse and excessive force used on the mentally ill, including tasing. The Department of Justice recognized this problem with the Oregon State Police Department.
The girl has severe autism, and “elopement behavior” – wandering away – is common among children with such a diagnosis. About half of autistic children have been reported missing, as a study published in Pediatrics found. This girl was “gentle and non combative,” as her father asserted in an interview with Infowars.com.
What happened in Oregon was a travesty and could have been prevented if the officer in question had proper training on how to communicate with autistic individuals. Such a program has existed in New Jersey since 2009, and it has worked. Officers do not tase people with developmental disabilities; instead, they use a low voice and speak slowly. They also turn off sirens and flashing lights to avoid scaring people with autism. There is no need for violence to achieve compliance. Please make autism awareness training mandatory for all police officers in Oregon.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Abayomi Azikiwe via Flickr