I am a police supervisor and I have an officer that I truly believe has Asperger’s. I also have a nephew that my wife and I strongly believe has Asperger’s. The problem is: neither my officer nor our brother/sister-in-law will admit nor knows that Asperger’s is the likely issue in their lives.

With my officer, who is young and new to the job, at first his behavior was just annoying. I want so badly to yank him up and ask him “What are you doing?”, but reflecting on it for a second leads me to see that he’s doing the RIGHT things, it’s just the way he goes about them.

Example: Every call that goes out, he has to respond to. Even with the presence of the beat officer, Matt will take over and apply his own problem solving to resolve the issue. On the one hand, many people wouldn’t mind at all if someone else stepped in and took over their problems, but it seems as if he thinks he’s needed everywhere to solve the problems that we all have to deal with, but his is the only “right” way and if he doesn’t take care of it, it won’t get taken care of the right way.

I, as the supervisor, usually direct the troops to take certain actions at a scene and I will look into specific information or details to determine further actions that we as a squad or the department as a whole will take to resolve the situation. If I radio that I’m going to go talk to a certain person or look into a certain thing, Matt has to beat me there and do his own looking into or talk to the person I need to talk to.

Is it WRONG? No. Is it inappropriate? Kind of. Is it NOT what I wanted to happen? Yes. Do I have specific reasons for wanting Matt to maintain or continue on the path that I’ve set him on (stay here, watch that) while I go and investigate further? Yes. I have specific questions and information for the people I intend to talk to that Matt hasn’t considered and doesn’t have the experience or knowledge to know to ask or know what to do with the info when he gets it.

I can’t outright say, “Matt, you have a personality/emotional disorder”, and I can’t deal with him in his present state, and I most certainly can’t deal with him the way I WANT to deal with him. His typical response to criticism is to shut down, tell others that “Sarge doesn’t want me to (do whatever I criticized him for)”, and then he manufactures an emergency to have to leave without dealing with the problem.

I really like your examples and your perspective and I really need some advice on effectively dealing with this instead of chopping his head off (figuratively) and rendering an officer with good intentions and ability ineffective.

Can you help?

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5 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Most people have a really hard time hearing they have Asperger’s.

    One reason is that the definition of the condition is not being able to understand that anything is wrong. (As opposed to, for example, dyslexia which we can all see clearly as a problem.)

    The other reason it’s very hard to get someone to see they have Asperger’s is that it’s genetic. Which means at least one parent has it and the people around that parent (the kid, the spouse) have normalized that behavior.

    So a good tactic for helping someone with Asperger’s is to help them with what hurts without giving it a label. And what hurts is feeling anxious and having to deal with new situations all the time.

    Suggestions for the officer: He needs a desk job. Being a policeman in the community is different every day, and requires lots of ability to read the nuance of a situation. Maybe the worst job ever for someone with Asperger’s. The guy you’re working with was attracted to the job because he likes rules. He thinks of them as set in stone. But really, rules are not like that for a policeman on a beat.

    A desk job for a policeman is filling out forms, doing the same thing day after day, with very little requirements of using one’s judgment. You should move him to a desk job. Tell him you’re doing it because it’s more predictable and he is good with a system that he can use efficiently and he’s good with enforcing rules, and you think it’s squandering his talents to having him running around the community talking with people all day. Something like that. He’ll do better.

    The nephew: If the parents don’t know he has Asperger’s there’s a lot of tension in the house because the kid is not meeting expectations. You could invite the kid to your house or on a trip, and do something he really likes–trains, music, astronomy, whatever. On the trip everything should be calm, predictable, and slow. He will like that. He will want to be with you more and more even if he doesn’t know why.

    As he gets older he will be able to identify the times he enjoyed with you. He will be able to say, “I like things calm,” “I like to be alone a lot,” and “I like to be with people who are predictable” and he will be better able to find his spot in the world because you have helped him identify situations where he will be successful.

    You are very kind to want to help each of those people. Not everyone with Asperger’s accepts help. Some will accept it later, after they mull it over. Some never will. You are good at identifying the condition. If you keep trying to help people, one day someone will take you up on it, and you’ll change their life, and you’ll feel great.


  2. Tony
    Tony says:

    First to address your immediate need of being able to work with your officer and have him not drive you crazy, try social stories (for adults).


    In other words still down in preferably non threatening environment and walk through the situations in which he royally annoyed you and go through how you would like him handle those situations. He is most likely missing social or “unwritten” procedural cues. Inform him of what he is missing and how you want him to handle situations like that in the future and most likely you will see better behavior. He wants to know ahead of time how to react in these types of situations even if he can’t always verbalize it. Shutting down like that is classic aspy behavior and can be hard to recover from in that situation so the more he knows ahead of time the better.

    Penelope’s advice, spot on. I went to college for a degree that requires a great deal of social interaction and I quickly got frustrated at how badly I stunk at it. As far as jobs go “There are no bad people, just bad fits.” Since it sounds like you have many more years of experience in your department, keep an eye out for places where this officer would be a good fit and not have to waste the time and money spent on this officer’s training by having to let him go.

  3. me
    me says:

    I just wanted to second Penelope’s comments about your interaction with the young officer. Not only are you being a good person by wanting to help him, youre being an even better boss.

    It takes a strong leader to be able to identify a subordinate’s weaknesses & want to help him find a better fit in the work place. Both for his sake as well as your unit. Recognizing his strengths & helping him build on them, rather than simply letting him continue to flounder is a key first step. I applaud you for having the self-awareness, empathy, and integrity needed to be an effective manager and leader.

    You’ve done Matt a great deal of good by reaching out and asking for help with the situation. Best of luck to you both: please write in to the blog comments with an update. I think it would be an excellent teaching point for all of us (managers & employees alike) …..

  4. DeeDee
    DeeDee says:

    As a police officer myself I felt I had to comment.
    I’m from Sweden so I guess everything isn’t the same, but a lot is.

    My first thought was “new cop syndrome” or “fox” as we call them here.

    Overly eager to work and to work fast (not realizing the compromise to quality) and really anxious to show off. (Yes I am as great as I thought I would be).

    In Sweden you’re never on patrol alone and the first 6 months you have two training officers with you at all time. The training officers job is not only to teach you the police procedures but also the social rules and understandings of being a part of a team.

    To me it basically sounds like he gets too much freedom in his choices. Beating you to a call ?
    (I think I would have sent him home for the rest of the shift).

    Telling a person that doesn’t listen after the fact that they’ve made a wrong call never helps. (He’ll go through in his head what he did really good).

    Can you ride with him and stop him in his tracks? “I think I’ll drive up there too”
    Your response should be “no, because that’s officer Spencer’s call and you don’t know what he’s planning, the right thing to do is xxxxxx because xxxx”

    You’re teaching him to think the right way. The way you and your other officers would prefer him to think.

    I don’t know how long he’s been on the streets but usually all foxes grow up within a year here. Gradually I should say!
    The ones that show no progress don’t even get a desk job. They get the boot.

    I would ask him why he became a cop and what he believes makes a good cop. I would also get him to reflect over the difference in how a new cop and an older cop seem to work differently, and what he thinks is more effective.

    Point out what his position is in the team, tell him his job is to work his position a 100%. Not run around the field freelancing. He needs rules and boundaries, unless you give him those he’ll never figure them out for himself.

    You don’t have to talk about aspbergers with him (I actually recommend you avoid that since you can get in trouble for it).

    My training officer would always ask us “1.so tell me what went well and what didn’t go so well back there, and why? 2. What will you do differently next time?” After every “situation” big or small we did this exercise. It’s hard to shut down and avoid criticism when you’re dishing it out yourself.

    If all this doesn’t help, hype up a desk job to him (this is hard, you’d be great at it) and move on to fostering better suited officers.

    Good luck!

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