Resources for Law Enforcement

Tics can increase in high stress situations, such as being stopped by law enforcement. It is critical to be aware that an encounter with a law enforcement official- an anxiety and stress provoking experience for some individuals- might cause someone with Tourette Syndrome (TS) to tic and exhibit more symptoms than in a calmer situation.

 TS is a significantly underdiagnosed disorder, particularly in the adult population. Behaviors associated with this diagnosis are often mistaken as actions associated with drug or alcohol use and may appear strange, erratic or purposeful. Due to this, individuals with TS are perceived as being rude, inappropriate, offensive, argumentative and disruptive. 

The majority of individuals with TS will try to inform law enforcement officials of their diagnosis, recognizing that they may come across as suspicious. It is very difficult for those with TS to stay still and remain quiet due to the sudden movements and sounds of tics. An estimated 86% of individuals with TS also have another co-occurring condition, which may also affect how the person reacts in a situation with law enforcement. 

Law enforcement officers may encounter someone with TS or Tic Disorders uttering obscenities, racial statements, or socially inappropriate phrases (coprolalia). However, only 1 in 10 individuals present this type of tic. It is also possible that law enforcement may encounter someone acting out obscene gestures (copropraxia). These tics, like all others, are involuntary. 

It is important for law enforcement officials to try and ignore the typical TS behaviors, even the swearing and anger, and not be drawn into further confrontation.   

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that becomes evident in early childhood or adolescence.

It is part of the spectrum of Tic Disorders and is characterized by motor and vocal tics. The current estimates are that 1 out of every 50 children has TS or another Tic Disorder.

Law Enforcement Toolkit

Law Enforcement Toolkit e1545239465771

This toolkit provides resources to law enforcement, EMTS, first responders, and other support personnel to help understand and support children with Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders.

Additional Resources

De-Escalation Techniques

When approaching someone who may be exhibiting common TS symptoms, simply asking “Is there anything I can do for you?” and “Are you okay right now?” can help. Using verbal de-escalation techniques can increase the individual’s compliance and reduce escalation.

High Risk Encounters

Some encounters tend to be more high risk than others. When following standard agency protocol of asking for documentation (i.e.-license, ID, registration), an individual with TS may make sudden, unexpected movements and sounds. Law enforcement officers will need to rely on their training to protect themselves and remain safe

Understanding Rights of Individuals with TS

The United States Department of Justice considers Tourette Syndrome (TS) a qualifying disability. While many people are able to manage TS with little to no accommodations, it is important to know their legal rights. This is important because people with TS are sometimes discriminated against despite managing their symptoms and not posing any threat to themselves or others

Informational Webinars

The Tourette Association of America’s hosts a variety of webinars to further educate the general public about Tourette Syndrome and help support the Tourette community. Please check out the TAA’s YouTube channel to view our webinars