Keeping Autistic Teen Safe

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:13 a.m. March 9, 2021

A mother thanked Toronto Police officers for their compassionate response to a call for assistance for her teenage autistic son.

Four men in TPS uniform beside a TPS sign
From left: Const. Brandon Lafreniere, Sgt. Brandon Robinson, Const. Anthony Foster and Const. Greg Hornby

On March 1 at around 7.30 a.m., officers from 55 Division went to a residence after the mother called 9-1-1 to help keep her 16-year-old son safe.

“She said her son suffered from autism and he had left their housing unit yelling and banging on doors on the second floor,” recounted Sgt. Brandon Robinson. “As we were buzzing to get into the building, he came down the stairs and kicked an officer. They took him into custody, but basically sat him on the stairs so he could calm down. We allowed his dad to come in and try to calm him down because we didn’t want to use any more force than we had to.”

The boy was apprehended under the Mental Health Act and taken to hospital for an assessment.

“We got an ambulance to come because we didn’t want to transport him in the back of a police car,” added Robinson.

Fearful that he was going to run on the street on March 1, his mother called police, to keep her son safe as well as ensure police officers would have the best information available to them.

“He is a big guy for his age and I knew that someone was going to call the police when they saw him on the road,” she said. “I had no choice. In making the call to 9-1-1, I alerted them that he was autistic and that he had no weapons. Upon the police arrival, they took time to talk to my son even though he was behaving aggressively. They engaged him in conversation the whole time, explaining they were not there to hurt him.  I was scared of what they might be forced to do if his aggressive behaviour continued, but they were very gentle, patient, compassionate and professional.”

The single mother has had to call police in the past to help keep her son safe, but this instance was the most successful.

In the past, officers have had to restrain the young man, causing the teen to become agitated by and fearful of police officers.

In this case, the officers called her later in the day to update her about her son.

“He was still at the hospital and I was worried about him,” she said. “It was nice of the officers to take the time to call and let me know he was okay.  When he was discharged, they called again to see how he was doing. That really showed they cared.”

In addition to Robinson, the other officers that responded to the call were Consts. Brandon Lafreniere, Anthony Foster, Greg Hornby and Jordan Ness of C Platoon.

Supt. Reuben Stroble said his officers did well to deescalate the situation involving the young man by connecting with compassion, using their training, common sense and empathy.

“These officers took every step they could to make sure this young man remained safe, using every tool and resource at their disposal,” Stroble said. “They truly recognize the importance of their work as guardians of our communities. More importantly, for this youth, the officers’ actions hopefully reinforces a positive perception of the police and I hope it shows this young man that police officers are here to help him.”

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