Tuesday, May 26, 2009

RNC Police Chief apologizes for conduct of officers who mistook autism for intoxication

When Diane Spurrell’s autistic son, Dane, did not return home from the video store on April 18, 2009, she knew something was wrong. While walking home, Dane was approached by officers who instructed him to walk on the sidewalk. Dane has stated that there was no sidewalk in the area. Thus, when Dane failed to cooperate, he was taken into the local lock-up where he spent the night. Officers there refused to allow him to call his mother, prohibiting him from calling anyone but a lawyer.

To make matters worse, the second officer on the scene defended his actions on the CBC website. Responding to negative comments, the officer wrote “I challenge all you arm chair quarterbacks to spend a week in my job. I have 15 years on patrol, and can spot a person who needs help…”

Chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC), Joe Browne, met with Dane on April 23, 2009, to formally apologize for the behaviour of the officers.

Why did this happen? Chief Browne explains that the first officer on the scene was fairly young, and followed standard procedure, yet he concedes that the case could have been handled differently from the start. Unquestionably, an excuse regarding the inexperience of the officer is not enough. Police should be trained to adequately differentiate autism and other inherent conditions from intoxication and if there is any question as to whether the person is intoxicated a breathalyser should be administered. The RNC has made arrangements to start offering autism awareness training to officers. In fact, the RNC had already been proceeding with training on how to recognize and work with people with autism. Comparatively, in Detroit, police receive special training on how they should deal with handicapped, mentally ill, and homeless citizens. This training was adopted in 2003 as part of a program to increase sensitivity and accountability. For further discussion of the Detroit intiative, see Police taught proper response to mentally ill suspects.

Diane Spurell has been supportive of the RNC’s response since the incident and has dropped a criminal complaint against the officers. Hopefully, the new RNC training procedures will prevent similar incidents in the future.

Posted by Ashley Paterson (Law II) (LEAP Summer Intern)

No comments:

Post a Comment