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An Interview with an Autistic Police Officer

James Ward-Sinclair

Oct 12, 2019

 A Bit about Ben:

Before we go on, one of the interesting things I thought worth mentioning about my interviewee today was how, despite receiving a diagnosis at a young age (in fact, mine and Ben’s mums met at a support group when we were kids), Ben by his own admission doesn’t know much about autism and says that he wouldn’t class himself as being part of the ‘autism community’.

To Ben, being autistic just meant a confusing school life, where social struggles caused him to be ‘isolated’ and communication challenges left him being viewed as ‘a complete looney and weirdo’. Ben says that he just ‘didn’t have an awareness’ and he was ‘treated badly by people for it’. Things eventually got so bad that after three incidents in which he was kicked, pushed over and had pins pushed into him, Ben no longer could stomach education and refused to return until he could change school (something which he eventually did).

However, despite this leaving him with a somewhat lukewarm impression of the spectrum, his interview turned out to be very inspirational and more positive than I anticipated – but then again, I should probably let you be the judge of that.

An Interview with an Autistic Police Officer:

James:  Question 1: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Ben: I affirm

 James: So you say that social struggles are one of the biggest challenges you have. What made you choose a public sector job?

Ben: When I was in school I would never have thought about being in the police. I think it was around that time [year 10] I learnt to play the guitar and that was ultimately what kind of changed things, in as much as I suddenly had something I could have a common interest in. Forming bands and stuff meant that I was able to generate this social circle that I never had before and my confidence massively improved.

I developed a personality that wanted to be part of a community and I already had experiences which gave me motivation to do something good. Then very, very quickly I knew that I wanted to be in the cops.

James:  What was the next step after you had made this decision?

Ben: Once I knew, I wouldn’t do anything else. Getting into the cops was hard but I wouldn’t be disillusioned. It’s intense and requires you to have some academic skill and there’s a lot of waiting.

You have to be patient because you could wait 6 months to join and I think people who struggle under pressure would struggle with the application process because it is intense.

There’s a telephone interview which isn’t very natural. They don’t ask you about a business or your past experiences. All the questions are based around competency and values that you must have, and they are very specific and don’t allow much room to present your individuality. One of them is openness to change.

You then attend an assessment day at the police college; where you do 4 role plays, two written exams, another interview and it’s like phwar, you’re really pushed and by the time you are on the brink of it, your mind is racing and you’re fatigued. It’s dead tough.

James: Most autistic people like their routine. So, when you say they are looking for openness to change, did this or the realization of routine breaking, irregular shifts deter you?

Ben: I mean I suppose I do have my routines. I always get dressed the same way, always have the same shower and I suppose that when I’m dealing with a job, there’s a lot of paperwork which I always do in the same order.

But all the stuff that I have a routine for, like getting ready, how I park my car, where I put my keys, you repeat on the night shift too. In the day, you get up, go to work, you do your shift, then when you’re on the nightshift you get up, go to work do your shift. The actual work in the nightshift doesn’t make a difference.

James: So maybe I’m reading into this, and, correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you have your routine, it’s not a schedule, it’s how you do things, that’s the routine.

Ben: Yeah, it doesn’t matter the time of day it’s the order. It’s subconscious.

James: So does autism help or hinder in the police? For example, It’s said that autistic people have a strong sense of justice. Do you feel this is true and does it help you?

Ben: Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with my inspector the other day. I said I find it hard deciding what I will and won’t investigate. We could get a shoplifting, a pick pocketing, a domestic assault and a burglary and we have to be very critical with what we put to the side to ensure that we do the most critical offences. I find it hard to tell people who have been pickpocketed that we haven’t got the resources to send someone out to look at all the CCTV, locate witnesses, interview people on the street and I imagine that must feel terrible. It makes me sad, but that’s how things are with funding and staff at the moment.

So yeah, it does help me to do a good job, to motivate me to catch the criminals but it’s probably more of a hinderance – because telling people I can’t investigate sometimes goes against everything I stand for. It’s an uneasy feeling.

James: would you say that the police is a good job for autistic people or would you say…

Ben: I think it’s important that autistic people are given the chance to be in the cops in the same way that the police should be a mix of all ethnicities, sexualities and religions, because the fabric of the community is just as diverse and we should represent who we are policing. Also, there are many autistic people who will need support. They are victims of crime so why can’t they be soldiers against crime?…

[Editor’s note: although the interview took place over the phone, I imagine that it was at this point Ben put a monocle on, started stroking his chin and his brain turned on the philosophical switch]

….but then, I suppose it would be unfair for me to turn around and say that every autistic person can be a cop – because I don’t think that’s true. You have to be realistic. Some people who are autistic are regimented and you don’t get that in the cops. In a split second they could say you’re working another [shift] and you are going to really struggle.

Also, the autistic spectrum opens up difficulties and strengths in all areas but generally those challenges are detrimental in terms of safety and managing workloads and it won’t always be clear-cut…. But I suppose that’s the same for everybody; nobody’s the same, so I guess that it’s unfair to say that every autistic person would be a fantastic cop in the same way that it would be unfair to say everybody would be a fantastic cop.

However, when you have a Jewish community, it helps to have a Jewish officer because they will have stronger ties. But, when it’s an autistic person, that person only represents one kind of autism, potentially, in the country. You’re a fantastic representative of yourself but the spectrum is so broad and big you’ve not got the entire target audience…. do you get what I mean?

James: I do. So do you think it’s important for autistic people to disclose?

Ben: It’s personal choice. I haven’t but that’s not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed but because I manage my own autism. If it’s the case that you find something really really difficult then disclose and the force will support you and utilize you because of your different background for a certain community, or to help with learning.

The force is aware that there are autistic people in it and they will provide help if you want it. So, should people disclose? It depends what’s right or wrong for you.

James: Finally, and most importantly, who is the best cop in TV and movies?

Ben: …all I can think of is Bruce Willis and he did a pretty bang up job in all 7 of his movies but my favorite cop film is End of Watch – except for the last 10 mins which I thought was a bit OTT.

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