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The EOC Releases Guide for Law Enforcement Officers on Communicating with Persons with Autism

03/11/2016

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) held a press conference today (3 November 2016) to release a new publication, Autism: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers Communicating with Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders (the “Guide”). The Guide was developed in the light of a recent wrongful arrest of a person with autism for homicide by the police. It aims at enhancing the sensitivity of and providing reference for police and other law enforcement officers in handling persons with autism spectrum disorders when performing their duties.

The EOC Chairperson, Prof. Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming, remarked at the press conference, “As a statutory body tasked with implementing the anti-discrimination legislation, the EOC holds great concern about the incident, and the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. Indeed, various cases in the past highlighted the need for greater understanding of autism and other mental disabilities, which are covered by the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, among frontline law enforcement officers. In view of this, the EOC has published the Guide to offer law enforcement personnel practical guidelines that can be applied in their work. We hope that it can help the officers carry out their duties more effectively while protecting the rights of persons with autism, and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.”

“The Guide also serves as a blueprint based on which law enforcement agencies may develop their own guidelines and procedures,” Prof. Chan continued. “In fact, we strongly encourage the agencies to do so, taking into account their operational needs. Meanwhile, the EOC will continue to provide training to the disciplined forces to prevent discrimination of any kind from taking place.”

The Guide endeavours to provide clear and practical information on how to identify autism, which includes a wide range of symptoms, and varying degrees of difficulty in social interaction, language and communication, making it difficult to recognise sometimes. In particular, it lays down specific dos and don’ts in interviewing persons with autistic conditions, such as the need to use clear, concise and simple language and to provide reasonable accommodation, to facilitate more effective and accurate communication. Since the behaviours of some persons with autism may be misconstrued as offending and may even give the wrong impression that they are hiding something from the law enforcement agencies, the Guide lists out a number of examples to clarify those possible misconstruction. For instance, the lack of eye contact may be misinterpreted as a sign of telling lies or guilt, when in fact, persons with autism may need to not to look at the interviewer in order to concentrate on what the interviewer is saying while some of them simply find it difficult to make eye contact.

In addition, the Guide explains the rights of persons with autism under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with an emphasis on the importance for officers to consult those who have knowledge on the conditions of the person concerned, such as his/her parents, carer, guardian and therapist or other professionals, in the first instance when the officers suspect the person concerned may have autistic conditions.

In compiling the Guide, the EOC has conducted extensive literature review and consulted individuals and organisations with relevant expertise and experience. They include Heep Hong Society, Society for the Welfare of Autistic People, the Network on Services for Persons with Intellectual Disability, and Dr Sandra Tsang, Associate Professor at the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of The University of Hong Kong and other members of the Family Support project team of the JC A-Connect: Jockey Club Autism Support Network. A list of reference is included in the Guide, which is available on the EOC website.

The EOC also consulted various disciplined forces and the Independent Commission Against Corruption in the drafting process. They have agreed on displaying the EOC promotional posters in their offices, including police report rooms and report centres. The posters will be printed with a QR code, so that law enforcement officers can access the Guide online easily by scanning the QR code with their smartphones.
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For media enquiries, please contact Mr Sam HO (Tel: 2106-2187).

Equal Opportunities Commission
3 November 2016

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