Olds: Autism and police encounters
Old problems continue
Editor’s note: Most of this post originally appeared 21 July 2016 under the title “Police encounters with Individuals with Autism of the bad kind” on EBD Blog (one of my former ventures into the work of communicating about individuals with disabilities). I have lightly edited and updated it. I plan to include some others, but the embedded links should take readers to the originals—JohnL
In South Florida (US) on 18 July 2016 a caregiver for a young man with Autism was shot by police while he was working to protect the young man from harm. Parts of the scene were recorded on bystander video.
As faithful readers will recall, on EBD Blog, I have repeatedly expressed concern about what happens when police officers, some of whom are accustomed to demanding immediate compliance with commands, would encounter an individual with Autism who might seem not to hear the commands and, thus, would not comply. The situation could easily escalate with the individual with Autism engaging in idiosyncratic behaviors that could confuse officers. The officers could shout commands more loudly. The individual with Autism might even flee (i.e., resist arrest).
Near North Miami on 18 July 2016 a twist on this situation occurred. A 23-year-old man with Autism had wandered away from a group facility; he was sitting in a roadway, holding a toy truck, and blocking traffic. An anonymous caller to emergency services reported that the individual was suicidal. Police arrived.
According to bystander video, Charles Kinsey, who identified himself as “a behavior therapist at a group home,” was then on the scene, coaxing the young man to lie on his stomach with his hands up. In the video, you can hear the young man say “Shut up” to Mr. Kinsey. You can also see two officers behind poles with rifles trained on Mr. Kinsey and the young man.
Yes, you guessed it. Pow!
Here is Michael E. Miller’s report from the Washington (DC, US) Post:
In cell phone footage of the incident that emerged [two days later], Kinsey can be seen lying on the ground with his hands in the air, trying to calm the autistic man and defuse the situation seconds before he is shot.
“All he has is a toy truck in his hand,” Kinsey can be heard saying in the video as police officers with assault rifles hide behind telephone poles approximately 30 feet away.
“That’s all it is,” the caretaker says. “There is no need for guns.”
Seconds later, off camera, one of the officers fired his weapon three times.
A bullet tore through Kinsey’s right leg.
Fortunately, Mr. Kinsey was only injured in his leg, nowhere else. He is recovering. The man with autism was not injured.
Both mental health and law enforcement organizations recognize the dangers inherent in encounters between officers and individuals with mental health needs. They have collaborated to develop training programs (see, e.g., NAMI’s Law Enforcement and Mental Health or the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s statement to get a start). Officers need to be the good guys in these situations.
Folks with EBD need to be protected and served.
And so do those who work with individuals with EBD. Mr. Kinsey, thank you for the work you have done, and I wish you a speedy and full recovery.
Miller’s report for the Post from which I quoted.
Charles Rabin’s report for the Miami (FL, US) Herald.
Marissa Bagg’s report for NBCMiami.
The report by Amanda Batchelor, Todd Tongen, and Carlos Suarez for ABC affiliate Local10.
One of the videos.
Selected earlier posts about this topic: