ADAPT

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ADAPT is the Dutch Police’s organisation for officers and staff with autism, AD(H)D and Dyslexia. Today I travelled to Huizen to meet Marlies Heida-Bakker, who works in forensics and who is a member of the organisation.

Marlies has worked for the Politie for 10 years, and has been open about her autism since she joined. She was diagnosed when one of her children was undergoing the process, and she recognised all of the signs in herself. She was quite complementary about the organisation’s reaction to her disclosure, saying that they simply asked “what do you need?”. She recalls that her colleagues were initially not quite as accepting, and there were some grumbles about the potential problems she might face, but these were soon put to bed when they realised that her worth outweighed any issues. Marlies proudly told me that whilst working part-time she had more solved cases than her full time colleagues! She was promoted last year to a more challenging role so she must be doing something right.

I was interested to find out about ADAPT as it’s very similar to the National Police Autism Association (NPAA) and is actually the only other body of that type that we know about anywhere in the world! It’s funded by the Police as a staff association, the people who run it do so in addition to their day jobs, although they are given time to devote to it, as most of the forces in the UK will also do for staff associations. Marlies wasn’t 100% sure when it was founded, but she first became aware of it two years ago when they held a “coming-out” day for autistic colleagues, which around 150-200 officers and staff attended from across the Netherlands! This is where Diederik Weve, who I met yesterday, had been involved. All of the attendees were autistic or had autistic spouses, for example. They spent the day discussing their roles, their issues, they support they received or were in need of and generally just meeting each other. Marlies said that the sense of recognition and acknowledgement that this gave her as an autistic person – that she was valued and not alone – was immense.

ADAPT holds regular meetings across the country for people to attend – you can use it just as a get-together, or bring a specific issue that you might have that you need some advice on, for example. Marlies has not had to ask for further assistance in her role, but if she did ADAPT would be able to give advice or advocate on her behalf to her manager, for example.

She also spoke at length about a course she’d been on about mental strength and resilience for officers. It was a course essentially about looking after your own mental health and physical health. There were lessons on nutrition, sleep, reducing stress, recognising what was happening to you in certain situations and controlling it. It reminded me a bit about some of the things Jesper Alvarsson spoke about at Södertörn last week. Marlies had been reluctant to go on the course, which is three days long and compulsory, thinking it would be a waste of time. Instead she found it to be a revelation. There are things that autistic people do not always automatically recognise or know, and she said that the course taught her lots of these things – like recognising her feelings of stress, coping with them, and most of all, choosing not to be stressed. Now stress isn’t a purely autistic thing by any means, don’t get me wrong, but there’s an argument that the baseline is a bit higher because of the intrinsic stress of being autistic and trying to fit into the world. So knowing how to deal with it is very important. And the recognition that other people are also feeling stress and anxiety (or pain, or cold, or whatever other thing I’m feeling) can actually be a bit of a revelation for us, which might sound odd to some of you, but sometimes it takes a bit of remembering, or figuring out.

So maybe that’s something to take away for my NPAA colleagues when we think about reasonable adjustments or supporting our colleagues – training on the neurotypical (non-autistic) brain, how it works, and what it might do in some scenarios!? Even little things like the how/what/when of asking for help. It’s assumed that you’ll just do it, or know how, or when. But that’s the type of small thing that autistic people can struggle with and not even know it. So maybe we should teach that?

Anyhoo, that’s a wee tangent. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to Marlies and hearing about her work. She gave up her day off to speak to me which I’m extremely grateful for. Once I was back in Amsterdam I took the opportunity to have a wander round the city, including taking the ferry over to North Amsterdam to the A’DAM Lookout, which was great, if a tad windy.

 

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Back to normal

93380DD4-60A3-43BF-94FE-8B5FC4709293.jpegAfter the disappointment (in some ways) of Denmark things have returned to a state of normality on my first day in The Netherlands, in that things have been productive and smooth!

I knew the last three days of the trip would be jam-packed, thanks to the excellent help afforded me by Lydia Flentrop of the Dutch Politieacademie. Since the very beginning Lydia has been excellent and has put me in touch with a range of people, all of whom have been keen to help.

I met one of them, Daniël Gellvoet, this morning. Daniël is autistic and had been involved in training previously at the Academy. I’m sure he will not mind me saying that he is a force of nature who barely paused for breath during our two hour meeting! Daniël is clearly passionate about getting the message out about autism, changing policy and influencing people’s perceptions of autism and autistic people. He is searching for the best way to do that, which is a difficult question when the aim is so big. I promised to think about it, and we’ll try to meet again at the end of the week. As I’ll come to, later in the day I met another contact whose ideas may be of use to Daniël so maybe I can influence Dutch policy as well as trying in Scotland!

My second meeting of the day was later on so I took the opportunity of some free time to visit Anne Frank’s House. Having read her diaries as a child the House was pretty much the only thing on my ‘must see’ list for the city and fortunately I researched it beforehand as you can only book tickets online and for a certain time slot. So after running the last 0.7km off the tram to make sure I made my slot, I spent just over an hour there. You basically follow an audio-guided trail of exhibits around the house and the Secret Annex and although the Annex rooms themselves are empty (the Nazi’s removed everything and Otto Frank decided to keep it what way) you still get an understanding of the families’ plight.

From that sobering visit, I caught a train to The Hague, did a very quick tour round the city centre then met Diederik Weve. I had been very much looking forward to meeting him and he did not disappoint. Diederik works for Shell and is involved with PAS Nederland (Dutch Autism group). He was diagnosed as autistic at 52, and decided he wanted to be open about it, and to emphasise the benefits it could bring as well as some of the problems. Supported by Shell’s Disability Network, Diederik began offering autism workshops for Shell employees and to date has trained around 1400-1500 people worldwide. He was kind enough to talk me through the format, and it was absolutely fantastic. I’ve been considering how I would make any training I want to come up with as interactive and engaging as possible, and his is exactly that. He manages to cover some of the theory by relating it to practical situations, and how it might impact workplaces within Shell, so it’s relevant to his audience, not just a bunch of dry facts.

This work led him to establish the Autism Embassy concept in partnership with a government project. He worked with the project leader and came up with the concept of having openly autistic employees working as ‘Ambassadors’ within their organisations. The idea is basically that autistic employees, with a strong track record of work and who wish to be open about their diagnosis, act almost as adverts, as myth-busters. Having people out in the open who can be role models and assistants to autistic colleagues, and also introduce an element of ‘normality’ into having autistic people in the workplace. There’s a wee bit more to it that that, and more information can be found here: http://www.diederikweve.nl/columns/nas-the-autism-embassay/

I absolutely loved the concept, although it’s important to note it’s not all plain sailing and straight forward, and we talked about some of the supports that need to be in place and the negatives that can come from it too, both for the individual and the organisation. Despite this I came away with a lot of positivity and a huge amount of respect for what Diederik has done, it’s inspiring.

I could have written loads more, however it’s nearly midnight, and tomorrow morning I’m off to Almere to visit the Politie!

 

 

Denmark

I had been hoping to have a couple more entries by this point, however the first major disappointment of the trip has arrived.

As you may know, I found it extraordinarily difficult to contact both the Swedish and Danish police forces whilst preparing for this visit. I started last year with our own International Unit – who didn’t have a Danish contact, should have guessed then! Numerous emails to general contact addresses went unanswered before I ended up contacting both the Swedish and Danish Embassies in London to see if they could provide contacts in each country. From this, the Nordic Police Liaison sprang into action, and names were provided for each country. As I hope you read last week, the Swedes were very generous in their assistance, however problems with Denmark remained. I eventually got a named contact at the Politiskolen (Danish Police College) who agreed to facilitate my visit. All was well and several emails went back and forth. Then a few weeks ago, all contact stopped. The fact that this happened just after I’d spent a lot of time writing a detailed study plan for my contact as requested was only part of the annoyance. So for the last few weeks I’ve been trying to re-contact the Politiskolen, and the police in general, with absolutely no luck. Not even a single reply, which is probably the most disappointing part. I wouldn’t have minded if someone had just replied to say a visit wasn’t possible.

So today that led me to doorstop the police at the station in Central Station. This is the only place you can speak to an officer face to face in the city, and is literally a police enquiry office on the concourse of the train station. You stand outside and wait for the officer to open the security door to let you in. I went along armed with four questions I’d written out in my best Google Translate Danish along with my email address and a request that someone look at them and simply email me the answers. They were nothing complicated, just about training. The officer I spoke to unfortunately told me it was too much work and they were too busy, but did give me the name of a department to contact who provide information on the police. As it turns out it’s one I’ve already contacted and received no reply from, but I’ve tried again. The automatic reply says I’ll have a response in five days. I won’t hold my breath.

Regardless, Denmark hasn’t been a complete wash out! On Friday I met Heidi Thamstrup from Autism Denmark. I had previously read an article that she’d written on the system in this country so I was looking forward to meeting her, and she lived up to expectations, giving me another viewpoint on training. In her experience, most of the contact Autism Denmark is having from families and autistic people regarding police interaction is with regard to cybercrime. Four years ago they held a conference with Rebecca Ledingham, who is a senior executive with Mastercard and an expert on cyber security, where she described a study she’d undertaken where 50% of those charged with a cyber or internet crime had autistic traits (not necessarily diagnosed). Heidi mentioned that they’d invited the police to the conference but they didn’t attend (there’s a pattern emerging…).

I asked Heidi if this was more of an issue than police officers being called to incidents with autistic people or others in crisis on the street, and she believed that it was. This is probably a very pertinent issue for us too. In the USA training was focussed on Response officers going to calls about people behaving ‘strangely’ or coming across people having meltdowns and how to deal with them. While I think that knowing how to communicate with and help autistic people in the first moments of police interaction is vital, there are much wider considerations than ‘just’ response officers attending an incident. Do those investigating (cyber) crimes understand autism? How best do you interview autistic witnesses or suspects? How do you gauge an autistic suspect’s intentions when it comes to proving mens rea? This is not an argument that autistic people don’t/can’t commit crime, by the way, but if understanding motivation is an important element of a crime, and it’s an area where autistic people can have problems, it’s an important question to consider. I know that work is being done on this, both in Scotland and in other parts of the UK, but it’s a really interesting aspect of training requirements.

So thank you to Heidi for rescuing the Danish portion of the journey. All has not been lost as Copenhagen is a beautiful place which I have enjoyed exploring over the last few days. It’s cycling infrastructure in particular is something I think Edinburgh should learn from, it’s amazing! Tomorrow I head to the Netherlands where I have a very full few days ahead.

Polisen Huddinge

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This morning I visited the headquarters of the local police in Huddinge Municipality, which is an area in the south of Stockholm with a population of around 110,000. I was met by Inspector Reine Berglund and his colleague Sergeant Therese Stenius-Nerell, along with Kristin Ek from the Police Communications team, which was a bit concerning… turns out she’s going to do an article on my visit for their intranet site, which is quite funny as I haven’t even made it onto my own work intranet site…

Reine leads the local ‘Echo’ team, which from what I could tell is a cross between our Community Investigation Unit and Community Policing. They are not response officers (although they help where they can), instead they are responsible for work like drugs warrants and investigating violent or gang-related crime. It also turns out that he is something of a local celebrity as he runs the award-winning Polisen Huddinge Facebook page! The regular operational officers are split into four teams, each with two groups, and do a rolling scheduled of shifts (like us, not the mad US system of a whole year of night shifts!) There are currently around 45 response/Echo officers working out of Huddinge, however at full strength there should be around 60. Apparently the Swedish government has stated that by 2024 there will be 10,000 more police officers employed than currently.

Whilst speaking to Reine I was surprised to hear of the problems they have with guns and shootings, which in my ignorance I had not associated with Sweden. There were 95 shootings in Stockholm last year. Reine then proceeded to tell me that in Huddinge they also had an issue with handgrenades and not long ago a member of the public had been killed by one they believe may have been meant for police. And I thought Drylaw was rough!

You may recall on Monday I was at the University and came away wanting to ask operational officers about the training they received. Reine’s opinion was that the two years was absolutely worthwhile. In fact they were all slightly aghast to hear that our college course was only 12 weeks. To put it in a nutshell, he believed that policing is a difficult, vast and ever-changing job, and officers need to be well-educated and equipped to deal with it.

Every year officers also complete two 3-day training blocks (Police Conflict Management), which can cover anything from counter-terrorism actions to legal theory. In the current block there is a section on dealing with people with vulnerabilties which provides information on what officers may come across and gives advice on how to deal with situations, and also has a practical exercise. Anecdotally, Reine felt that a lot of the people he came across on a daily basis would have some sort of vulnerability, therefore it was vital that the police were given advice and information on how best to deal with people in those situations. He mentioned statistics he’d read that police use of force in Sweden was increasing and a large majority of people involved in these incidents had mental health issues or other vulnerabilities. The force seems to have recognised this (as Mats Jansson said on Monday too) and have started to roll out training for groups such as negotiators and youth investigators. There is also an online training resource that can be accessed through the force intranet. Reine felt that there had been a lot of resistance to change in the past in the police but that this was hopefully now changing and there was a recognition that they had to be a bit more open to research and advancement. So yet again confirmation that police forces are the same everywhere! At that point I introduced them to the phrase “it’s aye been” which will be familiar to my Lothians & Scottish Borders colleagues…

My favourite days on all my travels so far have been visiting officers in their stations and learning about their lives and challenges, and today was no different. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to thank Reine, Therese and Kristin for their time and kindness.

 

 

Views of Sweden

Day two is drawing to a close already. I have spent today exploring Stockholm after a busy, interesting day yesterday.

My first day of this trip has set the bar high. I spent the morning at Södertörn University with Jesper Alvarsson, a psychology lecturer who teaches on the Police Education course. Police training in Sweden is carried out at three universities across the country, and although students do not leave with a degree, completing the course is necessary to join the police. It takes two years to complete and involves theoretical and practical training. Jesper gave me a tour of the facilities, which are typical of most universities aside from the mock-up rooms used for practical sessions. There are roughly 1000 students on the course at Södertörn at any time, spread over five classes. The students must meet the police admission criteria before they get a place, which means that most of them are slightly older than typical students, as they’ve had to gain some life experience before applying. One interesting point that Jesper made was that by having police training at universities you not only expose prospective officers to the ideas and attitudes of the university (and wider) community, but also the opposite is also true. Södertörn is seen as an urban university where many of the students will be from areas that either never see the police or have bad experiences of them, and therefore regular interaction with student officers in the university is seen as a positive in terms of building relationships with communities.

As I said above Jesper is a Psychology lecturer, and we spoke at length about what the students are taught on the course. He said right at the start students are taught communication skills, de-escalation tactics, conflict management, mental preparedness (and, for want of a better word, empathy) so that they can then take those skills into every other course that they do over the five semesters. There are other, more specific, courses on recognising and understanding vulnerabilities such as autism or mental health issues, but they are very much founded on the idea that police officers should be considering the bigger picture with *everyone* they come across, not just those with a vulnerability.

This method was interesting to me as during the few days preceding this visit I had been aware of a debate being held on Twitter amongst some officers, campaigners and those with an interest about the need for dedicated training on autism for police officers. Some argue that it’s not necessary as you cannot train an officer for *every* condition or scenario they’ll come across. From my morning at the University it appeared that the Swedish system agreed with this point of view, focussing on a more general awareness of vulnerabilties (albeit with a small amount of specific training on certain conditions) and looking instead to produce officers with the general skills to deal with whatever is thrown at them.

However… later in the day I met Mats Jansson from the Autism och Aspergerförbundet (Autism & Aspergers Association). He told me that the Swedish government had very recently directed the Police to undertake specific training on autism and other vulnerabilities as they felt police lacked training to deal with them! Mats was fairly complementary about the Swedish police in general, but did agree with the idea that they needed more training on specific conditions and mentioned that the Association had been arguing for this for some time. They’ve been asked to have an input on the training, which they’re looking forward to doing. Something for me to keep an eye out for in the future.

I picked the three European countries I’m visiting due to the length of their training programmes. Our probationary officers spend 12 weeks at college in Scotland and I was interested to see where the differences lay between that and a two-year course. Listening to Jesper speak about the classes he teaches, there was a lot of detail about the ‘mechanics’ of subjects like communication or conflict resolution aimed at getting students to understand why a person is acting in a certain way – not just in relation to mental health but in other situations too. They’re also taught to understand their own actions and reactions and to control them. Whilst we are not explicitly taught the psychology of these situations, I do feel that it’s implicit in how we are taught in Scotland – i.e. don’t always go crashing in putting hands on, making assumptions about who or what you’re faced with. In the same vein, it’s interesting to look back at the projects in the USA and look at them from that point of view – encouraging officers to take a step back and assess was a key point of each of the three projects I visited, which suggests it’s not a natural response for them. For me personally understanding some of the psychology would have been really useful I think, but probably not for everyone, and I got the impression that Jesper agreed to an extent. Tomorrow I will visit officers at the Huddinge Police HQ and I’m interested to find out if they felt that this type of education has helped them, or if they felt it was a bit too much. It will also be interesting to see if the Danish and Dutch systems are similar.

Thank you to Jesper and Mats for taking time out of their days to speak to me and give me an insight into the Swedish system.

Today was my free day in Stockholm and I spent it getting chilled to the bone enjoying the sights. I was so cold after a walking tour that I didn’t even grudge paying £12 for coffee and a cake!

 

 

Hej från snöigt Stockholm!

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Hello from snowy Stockholm! When I signed off the last blog, this day seemed very far away! Four months after finishing the first part of my Fellowship I’ve arrived in Sweden at the start of part two. A lot has happened in those four months – not least a promotion and a new job in a new Division! It’s taken a lot of planning to get to this point, including having to contact the Swedish and Danish Embassies in London in an effort to find police contacts in those countries, however hopefully now everything is set for a successful trip.

Tonight I’m having a bit of quiet after a long day of travelling. I’m staying in an apartment in the Södermalm area of central Stockholm, really close to the old town, which I’m planning to explore on Tuesday. As a child I had a list of places I wanted to visit and Sweden and Denmark were on it, so I’m very happy to finally be able to tick them off. Tomorrow I have a full day with a visit to Södertörn University in the morning and The Autism & Asperger Association in the afternoon. Like last time I plan to write up my visits as blogs at the end of each day as it helps me keep track of what I’ve done while its fresh in my mind, and also lets people see what I’ve been up to.

My main task this evening is to teach myself a few words of Swedish… most importantly “en latte och en av dem tack” (a latte and one of those please). Priorities!

End of Part 1…

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I’ve been back home for a week now and have had the opportunity to settle back down and digest everything that I’ve learned over the course of my travels.

In no particular order, here are a few of my observations:

  • Police officers are the same everywhere. They just want to help people.
  • Training sessions that have the most impact have a human angle, a personal connection, and they have to be relevant. Facts from a PowerPoint will not cut it.
  • All of the projects I visited were successful because they worked with the community, and had the support of families and external organisations. Training cannot stand in isolation.
  • And in relation, education works both ways, helping families and individuals to prevent crisis situations or help the police to deal with them by providing information before they happen is important.
  • Much of what I saw was transferable to other areas of policing and training, it wasn’t just applicable to autism. There’s a much wider potential for use, for example through the Crisis Intervention Team model.
  • The Vitals App is a stroke of genius.

There are loads more, but if you’ve been reading you’ll have an idea of what I saw and experienced. Now I need to go away and figure out how to take this forward, albeit I’m technically only half way through my Fellowship. In March next year I’m hoping to visit Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands to investigate how their training works. I don’t want to lose any momentum though, so hopefully I’ll be able to put some of the things I’ve learned into practice before then.

Thank you again to everyone who made this leg as fabulous as it was: Officer Rob Zink and the St Paul PD, everyone at AUSM especially Jillian and Dawn, the team at The Vitals App, Bill Cannata and Marty Baker from ALEC and Matt Brown from ASET. I truly appreciate all your help.

Unless anything major happens the blog will now be on hiatus until March…

Now to Europe 🙂