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Massachusetts: Call for law requiring veteran police officers to be trained in autism

Dec 12, 2023, Worcester Metro West Daily News: Westborough woman joins others in urging autism awareness training for cops

Luckily, the encounter between a Westborough woman’s autistic adult son and a local police officer who knew him ended well. But because Sam Kanji has no outward indicators of his disability, it could have ended badly.

Ilyse Levine-Kanji, a former School Committee member and an advocate for people with disabilities, told the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Monday that it is imperative for the safety of the autistic community, and the safety of police, that the state pass a measure to extend training to veteran police officers on interacting with its members.
Massachusetts already requires police cadets to undergo training on how to approach people with autism spectrum disorder and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury and Rep. Kay Kahn, D-Newton, would extend the training to veteran officers.

The measure would require the municipal police training commission to establish in-service training for police and corrections officers that would be incorporated into current in-service training and include presentations by people diagnosed as on the spectrum, as well as advocates and service providers.

The bill would train offers on speaking with or interrogating autistic people, finding runaways, detaining people and how to differentiate people with autism from those suffering from other disabilities….

Her son, now 25, becomes overwhelmed in stressful situations and may be too nervous to follow basic instructions. She praised another measure, currently before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, that would identify carriers of state-issued blue envelopes as autistic or suffering from intellectual or developmental delays.

The envelopes could be presented to law enforcement officials as a way of alerting police that the carriers are not defiant but are unable to respond correctly.

“All law enforcement officials need training to know what to do,” Levine-Kanji said.

Christine Hubbard, also of Westborough, is an advocate for people with disabilities and the mother of an autistic man. She said her son, Ned, is unable to drive but loves to ride in cars.

When Ned, now 36, was 12, he was in an overcrowded school van when he became dysregulated and acted out, pulling the ponytail of the girl sitting in front of him. The driver called for help and six patrol cars responded.

The boy was removed from the van in handcuffs and had his legs shackled before being put into the back of a patrol car and driven away, Hubbard said.

In contrast, Hubbard told the committee of a more recent incident when her son slipped from home and ran down the center lane of a busy street.

“It was after police started receiving training,” Hubbard said. “Neighbors called police; EMS and firefighters responded. By the time I arrived — I don’t run as fast as he does — he had been collared and calmed and was sitting in the back of an ambulance chatting with EMTs and local firefighters. They sat with him until I arrived.”

“Traumatic arrests are not uncommon in the autism community,” Sullivan said. She said that one in 36 people is born and diagnosed as on the autism spectrum, and one in four of those will have encounters with police.

According to the Organization for Autism Research, “media reports consistently document negative interactions between law enforcement officers and autistic individuals that often quickly escalate, resulting in unnecessary use of force, trauma and even death.”…


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