I’m Ali Thompson, Co-Founder and Chief Development and Training Officer for Pulse Line Collaborative Training. I’ve served in law enforcement for over 25 years. I began my career as a dispatcher and then became a sworn officer 21 years ago. Through my career, I worked as a local patrol officer, field training officer, detective, and then as an investigator at the Attorney General’s Office. The bulk of my career was spent investigating crimes against at-risk citizens (the elderly or disabled). Over my career I have had the opportunity to train police officers and investigators in local, state, and national trainings on interacting and interviewing people with disabilities.
I also have two children with disabilities, my son has autism, and my daughter has intellectual and developmental disabilities and is “non-verbal,” though she can communicate well through her behavior, some signs, and gestures. In 2019, Governor Polis appointed me to the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council where I continue to serve and am the chairperson of the Legislative and Public Policy Committee. I am also a coach for Special Olympics Colorado.
As most people with loved ones who have disabilities, I worry what would happen with both of my children if they were contacted by police or first responders and did not have myself or a caregiver with them to help explain their conditions. I can completely envision my daughter not understanding verbal commands, or my son being in an autistic breakdown and having his stimming behavior viewed as aggression.
As most police officers do, I worry about our officers who are taught a use of force continuum that says: officer presence, verbal commands, soft hands on (control holds), hard hands on (strikes and kicks), intermediate weapons, and deadly force. In our academies, we are teaching our recruits to do what officers have done with so many high profile cases again and again and go hands on immediately after verbal commands are not followed. We are not teaching officers that, if there are no weapons or active aggression, they need to try to figure out why the person is not responding to verbal commands. Are they deaf, do they have Alzheimer’s or autism? Or are they just non-compliant?
In early 2020, I started a project interviewing people with various disabilities and mental health disorders talking with them about their disabilities and experiences, both good and bad, with law enforcement and first responders, and what they wanted first responders to know. From those interviews, and a lot of research, a curriculum was started. I then partnered with the Autism Society of Colorado and we created the Interacting With People with Disabilities curriculum, with modules for law enforcement, dispatch, corrections, EMS, and Fire.