Police: a guide to Tourette Syndrome

Police: a guide to Tourette Syndrome

Do you see someone making obscene gestures on the street?

Does someone seem to be shouting something without context?

Is someone exhibiting peculiar facial movements?

These could all potentially be signs of Tourette syndrome. As a police officer, it is important to recognize and understand this neurological disorder so that you can respond appropriately. Tourette’s is a condition characterized by motor and vocal tics. These tics are sudden, repetitive, non-rhythmic movements or sounds. They range from eye blinking, head jerking, shoulder shrugging, and making sounds like sniffing, throat clearing, coughing, to, in rarer cases, the utterance of inappropriate words or phrases (coprolalia) or gestures (copropraxia).

These behaviors can often elicit misunderstanding and even aggressive reactions from bystanders who are unaware of the condition. Tics do not reflect a person's actual thoughts, but often the last thing that person would want to do or say in a given situation. Insults, tics related to drugs or weapons, and obscene gestures can therefore be triggered precisely by the presence of police. As a police officer, you may encounter situations where you encounter someone with Tourette’s.

It is essential to know that these tics are involuntary and not intended to cause offense or provoke.

Here are some guidelines on how to best handle them:

1. Stay calm and patient: People with Tourette’s cannot simply suppress their tics, and stress or pressure can exacerbate them. Remaining calm helps de-escalate the situation.

2. Show understanding and empathy: Demonstrate that you understand that the person has a medical condition. This can help reassure the person and bystanders.

3. Inform your colleagues and the public: If the situation allows, briefly explain that the person has Tourette’s. This can prevent misunderstandings and reduce tension in the situation.  

4. Ask if the person needs help: Sometimes people with Tourettes can use assistance, for example, if they are experiencing severe tics or a tic attack. Ask calmly if there is anything you can do to help. Often, this involves informing bystanders, removing fragile items from the vicinity, and so on.

5. Avoid punishment or sanctions for tics: Do not punish someone for behaviour resulting from tics. This can lead to further stress and therefore more tics.  

By being aware of Tourette’s and how to respond to it, you can contribute to a safer and more understanding environment for everyone as a police officer. Your attitude and approach can make a big difference in how these people experience their daily lives.

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