When the Police Stop a Teenager With Special Needs
blurred image of police cars with lights flashing

A man in his mid-20s regularly roams the streets of my small town in the middle of the night. He looks angry and doesn’t communicate clearly.

Not everyone living in the area knows him. But the police do.

“His father reached out to us,” said Sgt. Adrian Acevedo of the South Orange, N.J., police department, “to tell us his son is blowing off steam, has special needs, and won’t make eye contact or listen to us. If we didn’t have this information, we could mistakenly take him for a burglar.”

All of South Orange’s police officers are aware of this man’s disability. His name, his parent’s phone numbers, and brief details about his special needs are on file at the South Orange Police Office.

Many people of color talk to their children about ways to interact with the police. While the circumstances are different, parents of children with special needs often need to educate their children about ways to behave if they’re stopped by the police.

According to a 2017 study from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University, an estimated one in five teenagers with autism was stopped and questioned by the police before age 21, and 5 percent were arrested. And according to research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than people in the general population, and “civilian injuries and fatalities during police interactions are disproportionately common among this population.”

Read more in The New York Times.

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