Autism and Policing
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Key Terminology

Autism Spectrum Conditions

A group of lifelong developmental conditions associated with differences in social communication, interaction and imagination. They are also associated with difficulties in sensory processing and restricted or repetitive behaviour/interests.

Why do we refer to autistic people and not people with autism spectrum conditions?

A study in 2015 found that 61% of the autistic adults surveyed preferred to refer to themselves as autistic rather than as a person with an autism spectrum condition. Read this study.

We have reflected the preferences of autistic people. However, because many people who identify as being on the autism spectrum prefer to describe themselves as a person with autism when working with individuals the views of the person are most important. It is important to find out how each person describes autism and respect that.

The following terms relating to the criminal justice system may also be useful:


When an individual is taken to police custody by police officers because they are reasonably suspected of committing a criminal offence or of being about to commit an offence

Appropriate Adult

An independent person that assists detainees who are or may be 'mentally vulnerable' or 'mentally disordered' throughout the custody process. They may be a family member/guardian, volunteer or a social worker.

Booking In

The process where custody officers decide whether an individual should be detained in police custody and makes a formal record of an individual being brought to police custody under arrest.

Criminal Justice System

Refers to the system which deals with individuals who break the law. It is made up of various agencies and bodies including the police, courts, Crown Prosecution Service and prisons.


May refer to i) a formal warning given to detainees who have admitted they are guilty of a criminal offence or ii) the statement said by police officers at the beginning of an investigative interview about the right to remain silent.

Custody Officer

A police officer who has responsibility for the detention and welfare of detainees in police custody. They are also responsible for ensuring that duties under the law of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 are fulfilled.

Custody Suite

The area in the police station where detainees are processed and detained by police officers.


An individual who has been arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal offence and taken to police custody.


An independent person who assists communication between detainees and the police during a police interview.

Investigative Interview

Where police officers ask individuals questions about an offence so that they can get an accurate and reliable account of what happened.

Mental Disorder

'Any disorder or disability of mind' as defined by section 1(2) of the Mental Health Act 1983

Mentally Vulnerable

'Any detainee who, because of their mental state or capacity, may not understand the significance of what is said, of questions or of their replies' as defined by para 1G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Code of Practice C). This also includes individuals who the custody officer suspects may be mentally vulnerable for any reason.


May refer to an individual who: i) has been arrested for a criminal offence or; ii) is suspected of a criminal offence but has not actually committed an offence or; iii) has been convicted of committing a criminal offence.


The process where police officers will take a DNA swab, fingerprints and photographs of a detainee. They may also search a detainee and test them for substances such as drugs and alcohol.

Reasonable Accommodation

Adjustments which allow individuals with disabilities to participate in society in the same way as individuals who are not disabled.

Risk Assessment

The process through which the custody officer assesses the level of risk a detainee presents to themselves, police officers and other individuals in the police station.

The Equality Act 2010

The law which governs the duties of public authorities regarding equality and discrimination and protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in the workplace and society

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

The law which governs the powers and duties of police and the rights of individuals. The Act is accompanied by a number of Codes of Practice which outline rules that the police should follow.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The international treaty which aims to 'promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity' (article 1 UNCRPD). It was ratified by the UK in 2009. It is not legally binding unless it is given effect to through UK law and policy.

Autism and Policing

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD