Police have identified the need for training on how to better deal with vulnerable and multicultural members of the Canberra community, but courses had to be suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw and the newly installed ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan told an ACT Assembly standing committee that this shortfall had been identified but these specialised training courses are now on hold temporarily.
The AFP training college at Barton has been in partial lockdown since the pandemic began, with strict protocols observed to prevent any potential transmission of the virus to the recruit cohort.
"We started an autism spectrum training program very early this year on February 17 so this was something we've acknowledged we [police] had a deficiency in this area," Deputy Commissioner Gaughan said.
"And we've taken steps to address that deficiency.
"But I'll be upfront with the committee: during the current pandemic, the ability for our people to be trained has been diminished by the fact that I haven't been able to do large scale training programs.
"Indeed, many things have been rolled back. But I've given a commitment to government that we'll continue to roll out that training."
The standing committee is evaluating the current standing arrangements with ACT Policing, and will make recommendations to the ACT Legislative Assembly on possible changes as the next contract is negotiated.
ACT Policing is the only contracted police force in Australia, a service for which the ACT government pays about $164 million a year.
Mr Bob Buckley the chair of Canberra's Speaking Out for Autism Spectrum Disorder, said his organisation had "not even had a conversation" with police about contributing to their training module.
"it would be good to have that conversation because to date, the police haven't reached out to the local autism community at all," Mr Buckley said.
He said that "too often" police interactions with people on the autism spectrum have poor outcomes.
"Some autistic people can be left severely traumatised [in dealings with police]," he said. "Some individual police are inclined to exacerbate challenging situations through their emotional and excessively authoritarian approaches."