Policing is evolving at a rapid pace and officers must stay updated on changes to legislation, technology and social issues to be proficient in their role. One of the critical health and social issues impacting society is prenatal alcohol exposure.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities and diagnoses that result from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. This disorder can cause permanent brain injury and impairments that affect individuals their entire life. The impacts of prenatal alcohol exposure vary from person to person and cause an array of disabilities or loss of capacities. This is why it is considered a disorder that falls along a continuum or spectrum. Specific birth defects and the degree of the disability can depend on how much alcohol was consumed, how often and when during the pregnancy (though no amount of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe). It can also depend on the state of health of the pregnant woman.
FASD is one of the most common disabilities in society today—even more common than autism. In Canada, it is estimated that more than 3,000 babies are born with FASD each year and about 300,000 people are currently living with the disorder. Given this statistic, there is a high probability a police officer will encounter someone with FASD.
Studies published in the Journal of Law Enforcement and the International Journal of Psychiatry indicate individuals with FASD are likely to have contact with police, whether by being involved in a criminal act as a victim, witness or suspect. While it is estimated that individuals with FASD only make up about 10 per cent of the population in Canada, studies also suggest affected individuals are 15 times more likely to be a victim of crime. They are also believed to be overrepresented in the correctional system. Some estimates claim FASD individuals make up as much as 40 per cent of the prison population.