11 February 2008

Autism and New Jersey law enforcement

Over the weekend, Kristina Chew wrote about yet another tasing of an autistic teenager, and mentions a bill in New Jersey to promote autism training for first responders. While that bill makes its way through the New Jersey state legislature, first responders in Hillsborough, NJ are taking the initiative getting the training for themselves.

From Cops learn about autism to help prevent tragedy:

With more than 1,200 children and adults diagnosed with autism in the township -- and thousands more in neighboring communities -- Hillsborough police officers are reaching out to better serve those families during serious law-enforcement situations.

Hillsborough police Chief Paul Kaminsky recently participated in a four-hour seminar, "Autism Shield Program for Autism Recognition and Response." Its goal: To educate police officers and first-responders with an awareness and understanding of autism and how to teach and live with those affected, said Gary Weitzen, executive director of Parents of Autistic Children, also known as POAC.

Some thoughts from Chief Kaminsky and what his department is trying to do:

"All of our officers (there are 56 law-enforcement officers in the Hillsborough Police Department) have been trained concerning identifying and dealing with individuals with autism," Kaminsky said. "With autism being a part of our community and school system, we thought it was important that all our officers be thoroughly trained with the recognition and proper response with people with autism."

As a result, Hillsborough's police department recently has developed an Emergency Data Information base, which allows parents or guardians of special-needs children (and adults) to voluntarily complete a data sheet and return it to the police department.

The Emergency Data Sheet then provides law-enforcement officers with "essential information" -- such as basic identifying information; emergency contact information; means of communication; best way to interact; specific fears or concerns the person might have when approached; sensory or medical issues; and attractions.

If you haven't already, you should think about giving your local PD and FD a call and see what they are doing in this regard, and what you can do to help.

6 comments:

Club 166 said...

I think education of law enforcement officers (and others) regarding expected autistic differences is a good thing. And I'm pretty sure that I support the registering with the local police dept. (though I have not thus far because of concerns regarding exactly what they would do with that information at some future date-would they destroy it, enter it into some database, or what?).

But I think that a lot of problems that ensue regarding tasing and restraints happen because of the standard operating procedures (SOP) that police generally employ.

When police enter a scene where there is some kind of disturbance, they are taught to rapidly gain control of the situation. When possible violence is part of the mix, this usually entails a rapidly escalating display of/use of force on their part. If you don't comply with their loud spoken commands immediately, then they're going to lay hands on you. Flinch (resist), and be prepared for take downs with or without "assistance" from tasers or clubs.

Having eduation about autism might short circuit this process, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Joe

Marla said...

I agree, education is very important. I know in our town they have done lots of education regarding mental illness but not autism. They do handle the situations differently when they involve mentally ill individuals. Thank you for writing about this.

kyra said...

thank you for posting about this. raising consciousness is so important.

Brett said...

Joe,

You bring up what is probably the biggest challenge for law enforcement, specifically - gaining a sufficient enough understanding of a situation to allow for the proper response. Unfortunately for those who don't conform to the norm (whether by choice or otherwise), differences - and especially a lack of communication skills - make it very difficult, even with the proper training, for officers to develop that understanding.

In the conversation about vaccines and the responsibilities of society to individuals (and vice versa), we touched on the need for citizens to adhere to the rules of society. In the case of autistics, in general (god, how I hate generalities) they either are unable to understand their responsibilities to society or they are unable to execute those responsibilities (like doing what a law enforcement officer says to do simply because he or she says to do it). The real question here, it seems to me, is how much should "society" try to adapt to the individual needs of each person and how much should each individual be required to accept of society's rules.

I, too, am a bit torn on the idea of a "registration database" of those who are different. While I believe that this could have a very beneficial short-term effect in helping law enforcement understand situations involving autistics and others, I share your concern about what other uses that data may be used.

Having said all this, I applaud any effort made by any public service organization that takes on the challenge of understanding all of its constituents and hope that many more will follow the lead of Hillsborough, NJ.

Club 166 said...

Thanks for the comments, Brett.

I, too, applaud efforts made by public service organizations to further understanding of various populations they serve.

I don't think it is always an either/or question when it comes to an autistic person either understanding and complying, or not understanding or not being able to comply.

Often I think it's a matter of public officials being watchful for evidence of differences, and making small changes that can make a big difference to the autistic person (like not shouting at them when they don't immediately comply, and allowing more time for them to process what they are asking/telling them to do.

I don't think that the police need to do things that will further endanger themselves. But I would like it if they all could be a bit empathetic, and make small adjustments to their SOP.

Joe

S.L. said...

I grew up near Hillsborough, & it was nice to read about what they are doing. Training like this, along with education AND better understanding are much-needed--for first-responders & many others.