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Autism Education for Law Enforcement Officers

Lydia Brown, an Autistic self-advocate who is active with ASAN’s Greater Boston chapter, has prepared the following Action Alert on behalf of the Autism Women’s Network regarding proposed legislation to train law enforcement officers in Massachusetts about autism.

Dear friends,

After a hearing on May 19 (the Boston Globe reported on it), the Autism Training Bill (both H-02909 and S-01197) remains in committee. These bills would make training about autism mandatory for all law enforcement and corrections officers in Massachusetts, including new recruit training and in-service training. It specifies but does not limit to Autistic Disorder, Asperger Disorder, PDD-NOS, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, and Rett’s Syndrome.

These two bills, which are identical joint files in the House and the Senate respectively, were assigned to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. When the Committee held its hearing, it heard spoken testimony and accepted written testimony from the public regarding these bills. But they will not progress further in the legislative cycle until the Committee reports the bill out of committee — either with a favorable (ought to pass) or unfavorable (ought not to pass) recommendation.

The Massachusetts legislature usually takes a recess for the month of August. But if there is enough public pressure on the committee, it is possible that the committee will report these bills out before July 31.

If you are interested in seeing these bills pass, please write letters or make phone calls to the members of the committee asking them to report the bills out with a favorable recommendation, and or to your own State Senator and Representative asking him or her to lobby the committee as well. (Do not use email; write letters and send them in the mail.)

Here are links to the pages of both bills. You can read the full text of the bills on their pages as well as download a printable PDF.

H.2909: An Act relative to the criminal justice training regarding persons with an autism spectrum disorder. Sponsor: Paul A. Brodeur. Co-sponsor: Denise Provost.

S.1197: An Act relative to criminal justice training regarding persons with autism spectrum disorder. Sponsor: Katherine M. Clark. Co-sponsors: James E. Timilty, Kay Khan.

In your letters and phone calls, urge the committee members to report the bill favorably from committee before July 31. Feel free to use any of the information in the fact sheet below as a talking point. If you are writing a letter, adding a personal story or insight is usually helpful. Always introduce yourself, state your city of residence, and highlight your connection to autism or law enforcement or both. In letters and phone calls to Representatives and Senators not on the committee, urge them to lobby the committee to report the bill favorably before July 31. You can read my written testimony from the May 19 hearing for some ideas on talking points you might want to use as well.

If you make a phone call, a receptionist, staffer, or intern will almost always answer the phone. Ask for “Senator/Representative _____________’s office, please” if you get a committee’s general receptionist; if you get a staffer or intern for your representative or senator, you can speak to that person directly, and they will transfer you if necessary.

Always be sure to give the bill numbers and the bill’s name; there are thousands of bills floating through the Legislature, and no staffer or legislator will know what you are talking about unless you have its name and number.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

To find your Senator or Representative, use the right-hand side of this page. To contact members of the committee, use the following contact information:

JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND HOMELAND SECURITY

Leadership

Senator James E. Timilty, chair, 617 722-1222 (He is a co-sponsor of S-01197.)
Room 507
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative Harold P. Naughton, chair, 617-722-2230
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Senator Michael O. Moore, vice chair, 617-722-1485
Room 507
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Senate Members

Senator Katherine M. Clark, 617-722-1206 (She is a lead sponsor of S-01197.)
Room 507
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Senator Mark C. Montigny, 617-722-1440
Room 507
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Senator James T. Welch, 617-722-1660
Room 507
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Minority Whip Richard J. Ross, 617-722-1555
Room 507
State House
Boston, MA 02133

House Members

Representative Bruce J. Ayers, 617-722-2230
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative Michael D. Brady, 617-722-2230
Room 507
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative David M. Torrisi, 617-722-2396
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative Cleon H. Turner, 617-722-2090
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative Linda Dean Campbell, 617-722-2877
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative Brian M. Ashe, 617-722-2090
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative James J. Dwyer, 617-722-2220
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative Rhonda L. Nyman, 617-722-2210
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative David T. Vieira, 617-722-2810
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Representative Nicholas A. Boldyga, 617-722-2810
Room 167
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Once again, thank you for your dedication to better serving Autistic people in our communities. Please feel free to distribute this message as widely and broadly as possible to anyone with an interest in autism or disability issues and criminal justice.

The mission of the Autism Women’s Network is to provide effective supports to autistic females of all ages through a sense of community, advocacy, and resources.

FACT SHEET

CONTACT: Lydia Brown at 781.854.6346 or lydiab.abdulsaleeb@gmail.com

AUTISM TRAINING AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

S-1197 (Katherine Clark, Jim Timilty, Kay Khan), relative to criminal justice training regarding persons with autism spectrum disorders.

H-2909 (Paul Brodeur, DeniseProvost), to require training for police and correction officers interacting with persons with autism spectrum disorders.

Current Status: Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security

1 in 122 people in Massachusetts have an autism spectrum disorder (1). Difficulties communicating are often exacerbated in high-stress situations. Effective interaction with an autistic individual is further impeded when one is uneducated about the characteristics of autism. Autistic people are at extreme risk when they are the victim, witness, or suspect of crime, or when they are inside a correctional facility. Nevertheless, people with developmental disabilities such as autism are seven times more likely to come in contact with law enforcement officers than others (2).

In Massachusetts, there is little training on autism offered to criminal justice professionals. At this time, the State Troopers training academy has developed an online training course on autism with the Autism and Law Enforcement Educational Coalition. ALEC has also provided training on autism to over 12,000 law enforcement, fire-rescue and emergency medical responders, primarily in Norfolk County, and the Asperger’s Association of New England has provided training on Asperger’s Syndrome to some first responders. None of this training, however, is offered or required statewide. In the current training curriculum for correction officers, there is no training offered on autism. Similar legislation has already been passed in Florida, Indiana, Maine, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

SUMMARY: Lack of training on autism has resulted in numerous cases of physical injury, death, wrongful arrest, inappropriate questioning and false confessions, and psychological trauma of autistic individuals who interact with law enforcement and correction officers. This Act will establish a basic training program on autism for all law enforcement and correction officers and make this training mandatory. It also provides guidelines for the content of the training program.

This Act will:

– Create a course of basic training on autism for police and correction officers

– Require officers to learn:

— — the basic characteristics of autism spectrum disorders
— — appropriate means for interviewing an autistic person
— — how to handle elopement (runners)
— — appropriate methods for arrest and restraint on an autistic person
— — de-escalation techniques specific to autism
— — how to ensure the safety and wellbeing of autistic people in a correctional facility
— — the impact of interaction with law enforcement on autistic people

– Require police and correction officer recruits to receive this course

– Provide a similar course for police and correction officers who are already employed as part of in-service training.

Updated April 2011

(1) Massachusetts Department of Public Health, December 2005, Prevalence Estimates of Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder in Massachusetts
(2) Debbaudt, Dennis and Darla Rothman, Ph.D. “Contact with Individuals with Autism: Effective Resolutions.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 7.4 (April 2001): 20-24.

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