The informal, nonorganizational ways police officers receive training on encounters with autistic individuals

Jessica Herbert, Karissa Pelletier, Danielle Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: Given that formal training on autism is still a relatively infrequent occurrence for police officers, the objective of this study is to expose and describe the formal and informal, nonorganizationally based means police officers receive on-the-job training regarding interactions with autistic individuals. Design/methodology/approach: Using personal networks and snowball sampling, the authors interviewed 19 police officers from multiple US police departments who reported having known contact with an autistic individual while on duty. Interviews were transcribed and coded to identify themes describing formal training and informal means to learn about autistic persons during interactions. Findings: The authors find that many officers received formal training on mental health, though few received specific training about autism. Most commonly, officers with a personal connection to autism (e.g. a child or loved one), passed down information and techniques to other officers on how to have positive encounters with autistic individuals. Officers also passed along field knowledge of known autistic individuals in patrol areas/beats to help others have positive interactions. Lastly, community members often assisted officers by sharing information about find where an individual may be located, may live or known personal characteristics/preferences. Originality/value: Scholars examining police contact with autistic individuals infrequently detail the point of view and needs of officers in successfully interacting with this population. This work adds to this growing discussion by exposing how officers use personal experience, informal training and community members’ assistance as a stopgap for their general lack of training on how to interact with autistic individuals successfully and positively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)466-480
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 24 2022


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Informal learning
  • Police training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Public Administration
  • Law


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