Experiences of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Policing in England and Wales: Surveying Police and the Autism Community

Abstract

An online survey gathered the experiences and views of 394 police officers (from England and Wales) regarding autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Just 42 % of officers were satisfied with how they had worked with individuals with ASD and reasons for this varied. Although officers acknowledged the need for adjustments, organisational/time constraints were cited as barriers. Whilst 37 % of officers had received training on ASD, a need for training tailored to policing roles (e.g., frontline officers, detectives) was identified. Police responses are discussed with respect to the experiences of the ASD community (31 adults with ASD, 49 parents), who were largely dissatisfied with their experience of the police and echoed the need for police training on ASD.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The UK government comprises England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; however, for this study, only England and Wales are considered as they share the relevant legal framework.

  2. 2.

    Note: The ASD community surveys asked about experiences of the CJS (from initial encounters with police through to experiences during a court case, if appropriate). All respondents completed the section about their views and experiences of the police (reported in this paper), but those respondents whose cases progressed to court were asked to complete further questions about these experiences. The latter data is not reported in this paper, but is available by contacting the authors. Note that scores regarding ‘overall satisfaction with the CJS’ (on page 14) may or may not include the respondents’ views on the court process.

  3. 3.

    We use the term “ASD community” to refer collectively to adults with autism (Adults) and parents/carers of children and adults with autism (Parent/carer).

  4. 4.

    The discrepancy in the reported provision rates of AAs between police and ASD community responses may be due to unclear phrasing of the question and a lack of awareness by the ASD community that AAs are only provided for suspects and not victims/witnesses and that there is a distinction between ‘Supporter’, ‘Appropriate Adult’ and ‘Intermediary’ roles. Thus encounters as a victim/witness may have been included in responses, lowering provision rates. Due to the structuring of the questionnaire it is not possible to disentangle this issue further.

  5. 5.

    Note that the survey did not specifically ask whether people with autism not identify themselves if they were asked directly (as the police may do with those they believe may be ‘vulnerable’) or would they not volunteer this information.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the police, as well as the adult and parent respondents, who generously gave their time to publicise and/or complete our survey. This work was completed under Grants to the first two authors from the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Numbers ES/J020893/1 and ES/J003379/1).

Author Contributions

KM and LC jointly conceived the study, participated in its design, coordination, analyses and drafted the manuscript; SM, TH and AM participated in the design and interpretation of the data and assisted in drafts of the manuscript; TH performed the qualitative analysis, alongside LC and KM. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Katie L. Maras.

Additional information

Laura Crane and Katie L. Maras have contributed equally to this work.

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Crane, L., Maras, K.L., Hawken, T. et al. Experiences of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Policing in England and Wales: Surveying Police and the Autism Community. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 2028–2041 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2729-1

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Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Police
  • Criminal justice system
  • Interviewing
  • Offending
  • Victimisation
  • Witness