Nottinghamshire Autism Police Partnership

Autism and Policing: Policy Workshop

De Vere East Midlands Conference Centre, University of Nottingham, University Park
Monday 20th May 2019 (00:00)

About the workshop

This workshop was designed to bring together academics, police forces, autistic individuals and policing authorities to discuss the need to improve the support of autistic individuals in police custody. This event was funded by the Institute for Policy and Public Engagement.

The morning session was opened by Helen Jebb followed by presentations from members of NAPP. 

The afternoon session was a roundtable discussion about the need to improve the support of autistic individuals in police custody and how to best achieve this. 


Helen Jebb

Helen's opening speech outlined the issues in modern policing and the current context in which police forces fulfil their roles. She discussed the different priorities of local police forces and how police officers are more frequently interacting with individuals with vulnerabilities.

Helen emphasised the willingness of police forces to do more to meet the needs of vulnerable populations and how they want to deliver the best service they can to all individuals. To meet this challenge, she highlighted that police forces will be willing to listen to what they need to be doing differently.

Dr Chloe Holloway

Dr Chloe Holloway discussed her research into the experiences of autistic individuals who are arrested and detained in police custody. She began by providing a background to the issue of autism and policing, highlighting growing concerns over the increased likelihood of autistic individuals coming into contact with the criminal justice system and the effectiveness of the current legislative safeguards. Dr Holloway went on to outline the key findings of her research which highlighted that autistic individuals who are arrested and detained in police custody are likely to have very negative experiences which can lead to significant personal and legal outcomes.

She emphasised several factors which contribute to this including:

  • difficulties understanding arrest and detention 
  • difficulties coping with detention
  • difficulties participating in the police custody process

To address this, she highlighted the need to improve the support of autistic individuals in police custody and the three key ways of achieving this:

  • autism training for all criminal justice professionals
  • improving the accessibility of the custody process and custody environment
  • changing legislation to facilitate access to justice

Nicholas Clarke

Nick read an extract of his book chapter titled 'Going to Pot: Nick's Journey through the Criminal Justice System' which was published in Global Perspectives on Legal Capacity Reform: Our Voices, Our Stories (2019). He spoke about his experience of being arrested and detained in police custody and the difficulties he experienced in this setting. In particular, he emphasised the significant emotional impact being detained had on him and the sensory difficulties he experienced being in the police station. Nick emphasised the importance of listening to the voices of autistic individuals in order to learn more about their experiences and understand how best to support them in police custody.

Global Perspectives on Legal Capacity Reform: Our Voices, Our Stories is available to purchase

Iain Dickie and Professor Shirley Revely

Iain Dickie and Professor Shirley Revely discussed their research which aimed to learn more about the perspectives of criminal justice professionals and how these contrast with the experiences of autistic individuals. They highlighted how effective communication may be challenged by issues in perceiving and appreciating the lived reality of both autistic and neurotypical people.

They also emphasised the importance of moving towards a position of neurodiversity whereby we should use Autistic/neurotypical lenses to better understand how autistic behaviour can be perceived by neurotypicals. They emphasised how this may have an impact on how and where autistic individuals are diverted by health service professional, particularly after contact with the criminal justice system. To improve diversion, they highlighted the importance of giving professionals the appropriate skills through effective training.

Dr Katie Maras and Adam O'Loughlin

Dr Katie Maras and PS Adam O'Loughlin who spoke about the different empirical and practical perspectives of autism and policing. Dr Maras provided an overview of the different difficulties autistic individuals may experience in a police interview. She highlighted how memory differences, the interview environment, and communication differences can lead to high stress and affect how they participate in these interviews and considered what adaptations should be made to the interview to improve their experiences.

Dr Maras also discussed wider concerns relating to the identification of autistic individuals in police custody and those raised by police officers about the quality and accessibility of autism training. PS Adam O'Loughlin followed by outlining the different difficulties autistic individuals may encounter in police custody and the barriers police officers face which prevents them from supporting autistic individuals more effectively, particularly during the risk assessment. He went on to emphasise that there is a case for specific condition awareness and training and the importance of making that case clear. Adam concluded that until we make this case, and we make it mandatory, inconsistencies will remain in training, practice and the custody environment.

Danielle Ropar

Dr Dani Ropar outlined the need to improve the support of autistic individuals through changes to practice, the custody environment and policy. She stressed that we need to consider how these changes should be achieved to ensure that change is most effective. Dr Ropar emphasised how training must take into account the policing context and the different demands of each role in order for it to be effective. She also highlighted that training can only achieve so much and affirmed the need to look beyond training to what other changes are needed to improve the support of autistic individuals.

Specifically, she highlighted how the custody environment needs to be adapted. Dr Ropar then concluded by re-emphasising how policy should reflect the needs of neurodivergent individuals in order to ensure that best practice is standard across police forces.

Nottinghamshire Autism Police Partnership

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

For further enquiries about our research or the NAPP, please email