ADHD and Police: “Excuse Me, Officer, Do You Have ADHD?”

ADHD and Police: "Excuse Me, Officer, Do You Have ADHD?"

Of course, I didn’t ask him that — Excuse me, officer, do you have ADHD? Not exactly. Especially while he was writing my traffic citation.

But afterward, we chatted and I happened to mention Adult ADHD. To my surprise, he assumed I could somehow tell that he has ADHD.

I can explain.

Neighborhood merchants had been complaining to the police department about drivers making dangerous U-turns. It’s a one-lane block of restaurants, shoe repair, post office, and so forth, with diagonal parking. The ensuing dragnet caught me.

(Who knew that turning left into a diagonal parking slot on a pokey little street constitutes a U-turn?)

At any rate, I’d never pulled this move before. Parking was tight, rain was falling, and my post-surgical gimpy foot limited the distance I could walk to the post office. But alas, that’s been my lot since the first day at parochial school: never getting away with a darn thing, even on the first attempt.

I Got A Warning, He Got A Tip

The officer was cordial and professional. I apologized for my unwitting transgression. When he handed me a warning, my gratitude prompted me to offer him one of my books sitting on the passenger seat. In those days, when I was playing Johnny ADHDSeed, a case was at the ready in the trunk, for impromptu distribution.

After all, I knew the greater risks of incarceration among the undiagnosed ADHD population. I’d even helped, pro bono, to edit ADHD and the Criminal Justice System: Spinning Out of Control (by Pat Hurley, a veteran law-enforcement officer, and psychologist Robert Eme).

Tragic escalations can take place when police officers don’t realize the person they’ve stopped has ADHD—or do not understand how ADHD could be fueling the behaviors they see as squirrely or non-compliant.

“By the way, do you know about Adult ADHD?” I asked him. Before I could say, “I’d like to give you a book that might prove helpful on the job,” he responded, “Know about ADHD? I have ADHD. Diagnosed 12 years ago by Dr. X.”

I knew about Dr. X, a kindly psychiatrist and local pioneer in treating ADHD. He’d died recently, at age 72, in a tragic motorcycle accident. According to his obituary, he had been riding on rain-slick and winding roads on Skyline Drive here on the San Francisco Bay Peninsula.

“Lots of Police Officers Have ADHD”

I mentioned to the officer a story Dr. X’s daughter had told me. She said that her dad would sometimes lose his focus on this road, near their home, and underestimate a turn. Reading it, I remember wondering if the doc had ADHD himself.  Seems likely, as many of the “early adopters” did have ADHD. Perhaps that’s why they “believed” in it.

“I love riding motorcycles, too,” this officer said, with a big smile. “Lots of police officers have ADHD, you know.”

“But how did you know I have ADHD?” he added. “Can you tell just by looking at me?”

Not at all, I assured him. I mentioned it solely in the context of his work, that he might find the knowledge helpful. Then I handed him a copy of my first book: Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

“You know,” he continued, eyeing the book’s cover, “I’m 56 and have never been married. I was engaged once but it didn’t work out. Relationships just don’t work for me.”

“Maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s the ADHD,” I said.

I couldn’t give him the book, he pointed out. We might be accused of bribery! Yet, I felt sure it would offer him some answers and, I hoped, some solutions.

He accepted a bookmark. Then, noticing another illegal maneuver a few yards away, continued keeping our suburban streets safe from the scofflaw likes of me.

Side Note: ADHD & Fear-Based Management?

It seems appropriate to mention here a potential risk of unrecognized or poorly managed ADHD when it comes to being a police officer.  That is, being limbic-system-driven.

What do I mean by limbic-system driven?  It’s what my husband refers to as “Fear-Based Management.”

I wrote about it here: ADHD and the High Cost of Fear-Based Managemen


My husband swears that FBM™ got him through graduate school.

Here’s how it worked: He nurtured thoughts of disastrous consequences if he didn’t finish that paper on time and complete that research project. In other words, he stoked the limbic system fires in an effort to goose the rational brain into action.

Sure, lacking any better options at the time, FBM™ may have helped him to earn a tough advanced degree in the hard sciences. But, looking back now—with the advantage of ADHD diagnosis and treatment—he sees now that “self-medicating with fear” wreaked havoc on his nervous system. Moreover, it pretty much decimated his ability to relax and enjoy life.

I hear from individuals with ADHD who say they have “great instincts.”  But sometimes I see they are confusing “great instincts” with being fearfully distrustful of everyone and everything.

As always, I welcome your comments!

Gina Pera


23 thoughts on “ADHD and Police: “Excuse Me, Officer, Do You Have ADHD?””

  1. Hi Gina,
    I have some concerns. I read your book and it so clearly explained my marriage. I would really love to talk to you. Please reach out.

  2. Joel Sprenger

    Lots of police are AD(H)D because it’s a job where you can trade unpleasant and even occasionally dangerous working conditions for not needing to sit at a desk all day. It is one more reason why you should never talk back to a police officer. If they are AD(H)D their impulse control may be compromised. Unfortunately, much of the hard work of policing is dealing with people who also lack impulse control. It is not a good mix.

  3. Since diagnosis I seem to just bump into fellow ADHDers left right and centre – I’m an SEN teacher and am now able to ‘see it’ in undiagnosed children too – it’s so weird! We definitely have an instinct about it for sure

  4. As I’m diagnosed and soon going to be able to apply, I have been looking at my interests a lot over the years. I want to be a police officer, I have a big interest in skateboarding, and more. Sometimes I wonder how much my ADHD is driving my life choices and it looks like all the time.

    1. Hi Cody,

      Seems like a keen observation. 🙂

      Are you considering medication treatment? It might be that some new doors open to you — or maybe that you are able to go farther in the fields that already interest you.

      thanks for your comment,

    2. Ok this resonates with me. I’m a police officer, and I would say that I have a keen eye for finding criminals. Not U-turn scofflaws such as yourself, but actual criminals. I will spend an entire shift driving in seemingly random patterns, until I find something that catches my eye. I don’t tire of it, and I take pride in finding something “interesting” at the end of the day. I’d love to talk to you more about this.

    3. Hi Sa,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I think I know what you are talking about. It’s a similar thing — on an entirely different level — to the folks with ADHD who respond to my e-mail notifications with: “Gina, misspelling in paragraph 5.” Lickety split! lol

      They just zero in on it where others might miss it.

      Feel free to explain more here in a comment!


  5. Neat story. 🙂

    ADHD and motorcycles go together like NOPE. Unless well-treated, of course, and a personal pledge to never drive when not on the medication.

    My husband has always wanted one but I’m so glad he recognizes his personal level of ADHD driving impairments pretty much rules it out. I’m not sure I’d ever relax if he had one!

    His driving was the first place I noticed his medication was working, however, the first time he got behind the wheel medicated. All that unnecessary braking, last minute braking, awkward lane changes, missed turns, all gone and replaced with smooth sailing overnight. It was rather amazing.

    I’d still rather not bring in a motorcycle, however.

    I’d love to see statistics on police with ADHD, just percentages. It would be a neat study, too, for a sample of police who have not ever been diagnosed before to be evaluated. I have a few friends who are cops and apparently it’s a thing to say “If I wasn’t a cop, I’d probably be in prison.” I don’t quite understand what that means but we do already have some stats on ADHD in prison populations. Interesting.

    1. Hi Chloe,

      It IS amazing. Now, if only the rest of the world would catch on. 😉

      I haven’t seen statistics on ADHD in the police force. But it’s commonly accepted as truth, for police departments, fire departments, etc.


  6. My 20 year old son was diagnosed with ADD as a child but then of course, it was thought he outgrew the condition. Of course, he has not but everytime I bring it up he won’t listen. It is so obvious he has this condition based upon his behavior patterns. He really does tend to get himself into miscommunication trouble when stopped by the police(which happens often to young men in our town). About a year ago, he decided out of the blue he wanted to be a firefighter or paramedic! Reading what all of you have written about just further confirms his diagnosis in my mind. Now if I could just get him to see a doctor.

  7. Thanks for your comments, Katharine, Jaelle and Betsy.

    Vicki, I’m not surprised at all that you didn’t make the connection. I hear this all the time. ADHD is one tricky condition — a real shape shifter.

    At our adult ADHD meeting last night, there were 20 (new!) people, and while they all had many experiences in common, you would never know it in a social setting. All very different people and different challenges.

    Will you be attending the ADDISS conference March 30-April 1? I will be speaking April 1 at the conference, and I will present a talk free to the public on March 31. Maybe I will see you there!

  8. Having lived with my partner for 12yrs, you’d think I’d of noticed his ADHD before now, being that I work with adults both diagnosed and undiagnosed with this ‘difference’. Talk about not seeing the wood for the trees!

    He is a specialised Police Officer in the UK and has unpredictable shift patterens and no routine to speak of (something he finds hard to cope with). Before this, he worked as a fireman and yes, there were relatively few fires to deal with.

    I think the combination of intense/close working relationships and the occasional adrenaline rush are what attract him to these areas of work. It seems people with ADHD end up involved with the police in one capacility or other!

  9. betsy davenport, phd

    I have long wondered what the fire fighters with AD/HD do when there is no fire, which is most of the time. Those guys typically hang around the firehouse. Somebody cooks (great food, I am told) and everybody eats. They have cots and sleep when they need to.

    So if you’re one of those people, and you can’t stand boredom, what is that time like?

    The same question applies to the ER doc or ICU nurse, and what they do when there isn’t anything popping.

    1. Betsy, I am a firefighter with ADHD. I am not sure if you are talking about local volunteers or professional firefighters. I am a paid professional firefighter for one of the largest departments in the US. We have many activities such as drills and training that occur between calls. Our department also responds on rescue calls. Did you know that for most urban/suburban fire departments that are responsible for EMS the percentage of medical emergencies is about 80%? There is lots going on besides fire calls for most professional fire departments.
      On another subject, I think you would be surprised by the large number of first responders, both fire and police, that have ADHD.

    2. Thanks for shedding light on that, Rick.

      I think Betsy’s main point was the “in between calls” situation. How is it while you’re waiting for something to happen.

      On another note, I’ve been trying to help a firefighter who does 24 hour shifts work with his prescriber on medication.

      Of the firefighters you know with ADHD doing 24 hour shifts AND taking stimulant medication, how do they handle it? How do you handle it, maybe?


  10. Jaelle n'ha Gilla

    *lol* Great story well told. It does make sense what Katherine said. A friend of mine with ADHD works as a social worker for near criminal youngsters. Not much of a schedule or a routine but very much stimulation indeed 🙂

  11. Great story. Now that I think about it, it makes sense that it would be common for police officers (and probably firefighters and emergency-department personnel) to have ADHD; there’s no lack of stimulation on the job.

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