HomeautismWhat to Do When Police Misconduct and Invisible Disability Meet

The police are supposed to be there to protect and help us when we need it. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and situations can get out of hand for various reasons. This is especially true when there are invisible disabilities involved.

In the majority of cases, the best way to avoid provoking the police is to follow orders as soon as they’re given and always act with respect. If you find yourself being arrested, do your best not to resist, as that will only make the situation worse.

As powerless as you may feel, however, there are a number of steps you can take to address a situation involving police misconduct.

Know Your Rights
First and foremost, remember that the police cannot search you, your bag, your car or your home without express permission from you if they don’t have a warrant or probable cause. That means saying “no” if they ask to search you.

That said, if you invite them into your home, that’s seen as giving consent to search. So, if an officer is at your door to question you about something, talk to them outside, but don’t invite them in.

Tell Them About The Disability
Although those with physical disabilities are also sometimes targeted, if a person is in a wheel chair or uses another accommodating device, it’s usually pretty easy for the officers to see the need to work with that information.

When it comes to autism, SPD and other invisible disabilities, like deafness or blindness, they can’t tell at a glance that there may be problems with communication. As soon as they arrive, notify them of the disability as clearly as possible. If a call to 911 is involved, I’d also suggest notifying the operator as well. The more people in power who know, the better.

All officers should be required to go through some sort of training about how to handle disability in the course of their jobs, but we have no way of knowing how good it is, or how well the individual officer absorbed it. All we can do is provide that information from the start.

Unfortunately, this is not a sure fire way to stop mistreatment, but it does take away the excuse of not knowing about the circumstances.

Record Event
If things do spiral out of control, record the event. If you’re an onlooker, it’s legal to record the event, so long as you don’t interfere. Make sure to save the video and make copies. If there are other people available, they can record it as well. This helps keep the police accountable.

Some departments may already require officers to wear personalized video devices to record their actions. Our local department is currently experimenting with it, so that may cut down on incidences of police misconduct. It should also offer third parties a better chance of understanding what had happened if it reaches court. That said, it’s still a good idea to record if you can.

If it’s happening directly to you, get medical treatment, and pictures of your injuries as soon as possible. Be sure to take a few full body pictures to demonstrate clearly that those wounds are yours and not someone else’s. Make sure the pictures are as clear and focused. Again, save them and make a back up copy.

Whether you are the victim or a witness, write down the incident in as much detail as you can recall as soon as you can. Having a written record will help keep details clear, and facts straight.

Get Officer Information & Report
Do your best to get information about the officer or officers involved. This should include the following:

  • Name
  • Badge number
  • Car number
  • Phone number
  • Physical description

Use that information and what you’d written down after the event to file an official complaint. You can find out who to submit it to by calling the department the officer was from.

Also, take a look at your local department’s web page. There may be an online form that you can fill out. Calling is still a good idea to ensure it goes through.

If you’re wondering about what kind of information you’ll be required to give, take a look at this sample police misconduct report.

It may be a good idea to get in touch with a reputable attorney for further advice, especially if this is a chronic problem in your area.

Speak Up
If your individual situation involves the need of a lawyer, talk to them before taking this step, but generally, speaking up is the only way to get going on the road to change. As frightening as the prospect can be, don’t stay silent about what happened. Talk to your support system, neighborhood group and support groups you may be a part of.

Part of the problem with these incidences is how invisible they are to the greater populace. Victims are often shamed or intimidated into silence. That discourages them from taking action, which then prevents this issue from being addressed in any sort of meaningful way.


Work With Enforcement For Improvement
While we must all advocate for ourselves and those who cannot, it’s also important to keep in mind that police officers are human as well. The training may be in need of reform, or the individual officers in question may not have enough experience to know how to deal with all situations.

That’s why perhaps the most important step is in taking proactive action. If you’re part of a group dedicated to autism, SPD or any other invisible disability, invite your local police chief to meetings and workshops. That one on one interaction may help both parties understand each other’s points of view.

It may also lead to very real changes in how police officers are trained and procedures in your local department. This is a great example of how that may happen. Again, ensuring maximum awareness and common sense education is one of the best ways to minimize abuse.



Of course, not every situation is alike. An increasing problem is when schools call the police to deal with a child due to sensory or disability rooted behavioral problems. Alternet has a great story about the complexities of that issue here. At that point, parents and guardians must also address the schools, IEP issues and individual teachers as well as the police.

I may make an entry about that at a later time.

When it comes to law enforcement, we must all do our part to hold officers accountable for their actions, while maintaining a respectful discourse about the issues at hand. Neurological makeup or disability should not prevent anyone from living their lives safely and fully.

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