“I am quirky, I am different, but I am not less”

By Andy Marsh
Chief Constable, Avon & Somerset Constabulary

Monday 26th March marks the start of World Autism Awareness Week. Last year around this time, Sgt Adam O’Loughlin wrote about his own diagnosis and experience of autism; in his blog, Adam decried those people who call it a disorder. He said there’s nothing wrong with him, but explained that autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person experiences the world around them and how they communicate and relate to others. He said: “I am quirky, I am different, but I am not less”.

The blog prompted lots of comments: people welcomed Adam’s honesty and openness, and shared their own experiences or those of family and friends. Since then, Adam’s become our first Force Lead for autism, and the National Police Autism Association’s Communications Officer.

It’s a shocking fact that 86% of autistic people are unemployed, but thankfully neurodiversity – encompassing conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD – is recognised now in definitions of diversity and inclusion. Understanding and being more aware of the condition of autism is important: it helps us recognise and understand the condition in others, including detainees. In the last year, Avon & Somerset Constabulary has carried out a review of the risk assessment for detainees. In the past they haven’t been asked if they’ve ever been diagnosed with autism. Asking them about their mental health isn’t enough – many people with autism would say no to a learning disability and mental health question; autism is neither and so the condition goes undisclosed.

So once again we’re leading the way nationally. From now on anyone booked into custody in Avon & Somerset who discloses they’re autistic, or who a custody officer suspects of being autistic, will be treated as vulnerable and an appropriate adult will be called to give them support. Work is underway nationally to change the risk assessment to include this additional question, but we’re not waiting for that.

It’s this kind of determination and innovative thinking that’s helped us achieve a steady improvement in the outcomes of our HMIC PEEL inspections over the last couple of years. At the time of writing, HMIC are due to publish the results of their Effectiveness Inspection; they reviewed our effectiveness in investigating crime and reducing re-offending; at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, and supporting victims; and at tackling serious organised crime. The results are embargoed until tomorrow so I can’t give you any details other than to say we were found to be GOOD in all three categories, an improvement on last year when we were only good in two of the three.

I’ve been quite open about my ambition for us to become an outstanding Force. But it’s much more than just an HMIC finding: we already have many outstanding people doing an outstanding job – like Adam and many, many more Avon & Somerset officers, staff and volunteers. Last week at the Bristol Awards I heard some remarkable stories from our own people and members of the general public. Lots of Royal Humane Society awards for lifesaving and bravery and two Crown Court Commendations, both for investigations into historic sex offences, one dating back to when I was still at school. And of course in Wiltshire your support, and support from 14 other Forces, has been a very public demonstration of our outstanding British police service. To all those of you who have been involved, cancelling rest days to be there when you were needed, thank you again.

I know resources are tight and a lack of them sometimes limit our ability to do everything we’d like to. All we can do is aim to be the best we can be. And that’s good enough for me; if that’s our shared aim then I don’t think there’s any doubt of reaching my – our – ambition to be outstanding.


This blog was originally published on the Avon & Somerset Constabulary intranet – reproduced here with kind permission of Avon & Somerset Constabulary