April 22, 2013

Law Enforcement 101 for Parents

Police Officers are in the business of helping people.

The majority of them went into this field because they wanted to make a difference and help others. When the civilians and Police Officers work together they  can solve problems and make their communities better for everyone. 

Get to know your local Police Officers.

Call and ask them to stop by when they have time to get to know your family and your child. They will be happy to do that. Getting to know who is in their community is an important part of a police officers job. Introduce yourself and your child to them at local public events. Work with your school and police department to start the  “Utilizing Police in the Schools” Program that can be found on this website. It is free and easy to   start.  It is most likely one of the most effective, least expensive training program you will ever see.

Teach your children that Police Officers can help them.

Individuals with autism are very concrete thinkers. They are going to need to know that if  they are ever in trouble to go to a person in uniform and ask for help. Do not threaten your child with arrest or jail if they don’t do their homework, or refuse to clean their room or decide not to go to school. Those are issues to work through with your family,  IEP team or Behavior  Specialist. The police are the people they are going to need to feel safe approaching when they are in the community.

Teach your child to provide identifying information to Officers

Start teaching your children to give their name, address and phone number as soon as they are able. If they are nonverbal, teach them to show an ID card or American Sign Language. Even if the Officer cannot Sign, she/he will understand that there this person has a special need.

Teach your child how to safely approach a Police Officer.

When a child is young, say up to 6 years of age, a police officer will easily be able to recognize the excitement of a child around his/her uniform or car but as the child ages those same behaviors will appear to be menacing. It is important to teach children to walk up to an  officer, not run at them. Also teach them to keep their hands out of their pockets and not reach for the officer’s badge, gun, or flashlight.

Provide information before a crisis.

Check out this website www.papremisealert.com

Download a form, fill it out, and take it to your local Police Department. You can print out directions for Police Departments as well and ask them to put this program in place in your town or city.

Always disclose your condition to an Officer.

You and your child should disclose the diagnosis as soon as possible. Teach your child to carry an ID card or Medic-Alert Bracelet so that in the event of a crisis and the child or adult is unable to speak or give his or her information the police will be able to know that there is a diagnosis to be considered.

Families of children with autism are not immune from being an abuser

If an Officer or hospital worker takes time to investigate the possibility that your child  has been abused due to bruises or scars from self-injurious behaviors, try not to be offended.   They are working to protect your child. They don’t know you or your family they have to go off of what they are seeing. It is good that they care enough to look twice.  Provide a copy  Autism 101 for Mandated Reporters to your local police, it can be found on here.

When you call the Police, the police will come

I know that sounds pretty basic but realize that when you call the police they will come and do what they need to do to contain the situation. Parents need to understand what that means. When the Police have trouble they have no one to call, except for more police.  Most times and most interactions end well with the situation being resolved without physical contact or further action, but your child may be arrested, may be handcuffed or tasered if necessary. Your child may be subject to an involuntary psychiatric commitment that will last no less than 3 days.

Learn the number for your Local or County Crisis Intervention Team.

They work under the department of Mental Health and they are a resource that may be helpful to you and your child in the event of a behavioral or mental health crisis. Work to make sure they have the training and expertise to help during a crisis.  Call your local Department of Mental Health to get the phone number, add it to your cell phone director and emergency numbers for care providers. In Pennsylvania check our website to find the number for every counties Crisis Intervention Hot Line.

Police Officers are not doctors, psychologists, or Behavior Specialists. 

We are truly fortunate in Pennsylvania that by the end of 2008 every police officer in the state will have received autism training. That does not mean they can diagnose, recognize it on the street, or use perfect de-escalation techniques. Their training will give them a thumbnail sketch of the disability and some suggestions to improve interactions. An Officers job is far more complicated and involved than dealing only with individuals with autism. The training is to provide some insight and techniques that should improve understanding and interactions. For more information on the autism specific training contact Dennis Debbaudt at www.autismriskmanagement.com

Autism is NOT a get out of jail free card.

Some people with autism can form intent and commit crimes; many cannot and so need to be treated in a different manner. If someone who cannot form intent repeatedly causes harm or damage in the community it may be in their best interest for them to be placed in a setting that will allow them appropriate freedoms and appropriate supervision to remain safe. It is critically important to access all available resources for assistance such as a county or state agency that provides support services, community advocacy groups and support groups to find information on how to best protect your child or adult child.


Susan F. Rzucidlo compiled this information from families and police officers across the nation. All copyrights are maintained by SPEAK Unlimited Inc.  More information for first responders can be found at www.papremisealert.com  PERMISSION: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material after contacting SPEAK Unlimited,  provided that you do NOT alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction and you leave this notice on all reproductions. © 2003-13