Police and Diversity Training

By: A.C.

In recent times, there have been incidents which have occurred in the USA which show an initial inability to understand deaf mute or autistic people who have had an interaction with the Police.

Acording to the BBC, in the first of these incidents:

“Michael Sandford, 20, from Dorking, Surrey, was accused of trying to grab a police officer’s gun to shoot Mr Trump at a Las Vegas rally on 18 June.” 

Sandford is on the Autism Spectrum and has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

Sandford was illegally in the USA, and at a Donald Trump rally he tried to grab a gun from a Police Officer with the intent to shoot Trump.   Admitting these charges would have meant 20 years in jail. However, he has admitted lesser charges and  now has a proper psychiatric evaluation and medication.

The next reported incident was in North Carolina:

 “North Carolina state trooper shot and killed 29-year-old Daniel Harris — who was not only unarmed, but deaf — just feet from his home, over a speeding violation”

He appeared to be trying to communicate with the officer via sign language. 

We all know that the Police in the USA  have a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, and the toll of people “ justifiably” shot by Police keeps rising,  and so far to date it is  821 this year alone.

It was reported that Daniel Harris ignored the State Trooper’s audible siren to pull his car over.  According to witnesses he was shot almost as soon as he got out of the car.     One can speculate on the reasons for that, as being too much anger, or a misinterpretation of the signs being used as “ threatening” and of course Harris was deaf-mute. .  Maybe the presence of firearms had the most crucial role to play.

So how do our generally unarmed Police in Scotland get trained in dealing with people with sensory or physical disabilities?  We have to be brutally honest here, and say that that whilst a vast majority of people will never have any contact with Police, many people will, and of that proportion, a few might be disabled.

I made enquiries of Police Scotland, and received a reply from the training  department in Nelson Street Aberdeen. The very helpful person there obtained an answer from Tulliallan, the Police Scotland College  which said :

“At present we do not deliver any specific input on dealing with the public who have the detailed disabilities.

During the Diversity (two days) input the subject of dealing with the protected characteristics is discussed and this includes disabilities.  Officers are made aware that we treat everyone fairly as their needs dictate. In addition we emphasise the support facilities available such as translators (including BSL) and the need for appropriate adult support if required.  This is repeated and reinforced in other inputs such as “Prisoners rights,care and welfare” , SPELS and in all aspects of communications including practical’s.

We don’t teach any signing.”

The following is the response from the Adult Protection Coordinator in Aberdeenshire:

“I know that the Moray Council were offering Autism training and a few officers attended.  I was approached recently by an Aberdeenshire group who were also offering Autism training and wondered if the Police would be interested in attending at a local level.

Apart from that, the information sought was covered in the original Diversity Training, granted it was not as detailed as to teach certain signs but did give an awareness of disabilities, including sight and hearing impairment.  So those who were in Grampian Police during the training in 2002 – 2004 will have an awareness, Those who did their probation at college round about the same time will also have a level of knowledge as the first week covered diversity.” 

There are some differences between our Police and the USA -that they are not generally armed is the most obvious.Scotland’s Police are not a ‘Police Force’; they are Police Service that can only operate with consent of the public. The Police in Scotland, unlike America are not taught that every person they make contact with is their enemy and a potential threat. 

It seems to me that even though Police Scotland have a very good BSL sign language page for hearing impaired people using their website, maybe there is an opportunity for a little more local diversity training which would help Police and disabled groups understand each other.  

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