Danielle Jacobs, an animal rescue worker famous for a video she made of her companion service dog Samson stopping her from self-harming during a meltdown, has been killed. Danielle was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome prior to the change in diagnostic terms, placing her on the autistic spectrum. She - and her condition - were known to the police in Mesa, Arizona when they shot and killed her upon being called to prevent her from committing suicide.

No body cameras

Officers allege that Jacobs attacked them with a knife prior to the shooting. However, AZFamily.com reports that officers were not wearing body cameras. There is no report of a non-lethal attempt to subdue her, such as the use of a Taser, physical force, “bean bag” shots or other attempt at preserving the life they had been called upon to save. Officers responded to a suicide attempt of Jacob’s prior to the incident a few years ago, and there was apparent awareness of her condition.

During an autistic “meltdown”, an individual on the spectrum is not in control of his or her actions. Terrifying for the person having the meltdown, he or she will go into a complete “fight or flight” state. While many meltdowns are non-violent, in some instances, depending on the severity and the unique individual, lashing out at others or self-harming is possible. Approaching a person with autism in the midst of a meltdown with force or threats could potentially cause that person to lash out violently.

No training?

Usually, when these instances pop up, promises of better training, whining about underfunding for training and a lot of lip service is done in press conferences. Yet, autism and mental illness is in the collective consciousness. There may be a rare individual who doesn’t know someone with autism, but that is increasingly rare. Treatment of those with neurological differences and mental illnesses by police was even addressed on last season’s TV show Blue Bloods. Yet, this morning, officers couldn’t disarm a 24 year old woman with a knife and preserve her life.

On the spectrum

Jacobs, like many adults with autism, was not diagnosed as a child. While diagnosis rates have shot up dramatically for children aged 3 to 17 to 1 in 45, they are only now beginning to reflect the sheer amount of people on the spectrum. What’s more, many adults today go undiagnosed because the current diagnostics are not set up to screen individuals beyond childhood. They continue to have diagnoses of everything from social anxiety to schizoaffective disorders, but are not being recognized as being neurodivergent. Furthermore, services and assistance for people on the spectrum over age 18 range from poor and lacking to non-existent.

The online autistic community is in shock, horrified, and grieving today. Timothy W., 52, a military veteran and son of a police officer, told Blasting News, “It is not some Job…being an officer with a sworn duty ‘to protect and serve.’ I would have gladly spilled my own blood to protect this girl! Above all I will always be a man of honor and a true gentleman. I’ve already received 100s of stitches. A few more (had he been confronted  with Jacob’s knife)? I will heal in 4-6 weeks.”

Timothy, who is also on the autism spectrum, went on to say, in his experience, “In this situation they responded to a person who needed assistance.  They were there to protect her from herself.  A person with autism that is going thru something like this meltdown is not a threat. They are overwhelmed with emotions though. Instead the cops escalated the situation...caused her even more to be overwhelmed.”

Autism is a common and well-known condition. Other comorbid mental issues such as anxiety and depression are equally or more common. Basic information is very easy to find. If the precincts in the US aren’t providing “training”, then perhaps officers need to display the work ethic and integrity to educate themselves before pulling a gun. Like Timothy said, this is not just a job. #Health