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.

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“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

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