An alert card and passport scheme aimed at improving how police interact with people with autism is being introduced.
The new Autism Alert Cards will be carried by individuals with autism and will identify the cardholder as having an autism spectrum disorder. It will also hold basic information including the individual’s name and contact details for an appropriate adult.
The aim is for cardholders to be able to readily produce the card when they come into contact with police and provide officers and staff with the information in order to aid understanding and effective interaction.
The cards will alert officers to the fact that the individual may have difficulty with communication and exhibit unusual or unpredictable behaviour. In turn, officers will be able to make appropriate and reasonable adjustments and interact with the individual appropriately.
The card also details how autism manifests and provides practical advice for the officer involved.
The larger passports will include the same information and can be carried in bags or rucksacks for the individual to produce when required.
The scheme has been produced as a result of a collaboration between the Metropolitan Police Service, City of London Police and British Transport Police. It is supported by the National Police Autism Association and will be rolled out across London.
They will be distributed and made available through autistic partnership boards and local police across the capital.
It has been developed following extensive consultations with individuals with autism and their parents, the National Autistic Society, Autism Partnership Boards and other partner agencies.
John Nelson, Chair of the National Police Autism Association and a sergeant with the British Transport Police, said:
"As a staff association supporting autism and neurodiversity within the police service, the NPAA is very pleased to get behind this initiative. The Tri-Force Autism Passport will help ensure that members of the autistic community receive a consistent high standard of service and are treated with understanding and respect whenever they come into contact with the police."
Detective Superintendent Helen Lyons, the Met’s lead responsible officer for Adults Neglected, Vulnerable and Abused, said:
“Autism is a complex condition characterised by social and communication difficulties. Having an encounter with police – whether as a victim, someone officers are concerned for the welfare of, or as a suspect - is an unsettling encounter for anybody, but for someone with autism, it can be extremely distressing.
“It could be the confrontation with a stranger, or the idea of physical contact that triggers an adverse, nervous reaction in that person and potentially escalate the situation. Officers currently have no way of knowing whether someone has autism, a condition which may explain their behaviour.
“This card solves that problem, and will give officers the best chance to seek the appropriate assistance and support for that person.
“The Met, with City of London Police and British Transport Police, has developed this card after feedback from, and with the support of charities and other agencies who work to support people with autism. We are committed to providing the best possible service to everyone who lives, works and visits London, and these cards will further help us do this.”
Detective Constable David Jones, from the City of London Police, said:
“Contact with police can be a stressful event for anybody, not least those with a developmental disability such as autism. As such, these cards are an incredibly valuable tool for officers, especially those on the frontline, to know if they’re interacting with a person with autism.
“The aim of this scheme is to allow officers to adjust their behaviour when encountering someone who carries one of these cards, making that experience easier for both the officer and the member of the public.”
Barry Boffy Head of Inclusion & Diversity at British Transport Police, said:
"It's really important to us at British Transport Police that all of our neurodiversity communities have the confidence to travel on the UK's railways if they want to. The Autism Passport is a fantastic way to give people the confidence to travel, whilst also helping our officers offer the very best, and most appropriate, support to those who may need our help."
Clare Hughes, Criminal Justice Manager from the National Autistic Society, highlights:
“Encounters with the police can be particularly challenging for autistic people, who often find communication difficult and can become extremely anxious in situations they don't understand - particularly if they're surrounded by noise and confusion.
“The 700,000 autistic people in the UK are subject to the law, just like everyone else, and may come into contact with the police at different points of their lives and for different reasons. We've heard awful stories of anxious behaviour being misinterpreted by emergency services and situations escalating quickly.
“Up until now, officers have had no way of knowing whether someone is autistic. By ensuring that the police have clear and tailored information about each individual's communication style, sensory issues and any particular difficulties they face. This should allow officers to adapt their communication or actions, so they can make sure they treat autistic people appropriately and with respect.
“We know that police officers want to do their best. This scheme, alongside training, should help them do that, and go a long way towards ensuring the police protect and treat autistic people fairly.”