West Virginia law enforcement receives autism training
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A statewide program designed to teach law enforcement officers how to have safe interactions with people with autism spectrum disorder is underway launch.
Safe Interactions for Law Enforcement and Persons with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities training was offered this month in Berkeley and Marion counties, through a partnership with the Department of Health and Human Resources, University of Virginia -West and West Virginia State Police.
State Police Captain RA Maddy said the goal of the training was to reduce negative interactions and adverse outcomes by increasing awareness of intellectual or developmental disabilities, with an emphasis on autism spectrum disorders. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder with varying degrees of impairment creating atypical behaviors, patterns of interest, social interactions, and communications.
First Sergeant. State Police’s KG Murray said the training was essential for policing in the 21st century.
“As parents of a young adult and a teenager with ASD, my wife and I hope that the ASD awareness training will be a very effective educational tool for all law enforcement in West Virginia, where most of our encounters with people with ASD are positive,” he said. “With this training, West Virginia can be the light for the rest of the nation in ASD training and education for law enforcement and all first responders.”
In April 2021, the West Virginia Legislature passed a law that requires state law enforcement and corrections officers to undergo training to handle cases involving a person with autism spectrum disorder in which these people are victims or witnesses of a crime, or suspected or convicted. a crime. Autism awareness training within law enforcement began last year.
Julie O’Malley, community and educational training coordinator for Marshall University’s West Virginia Autism Training Center, said the first training under the law took place on June 28, 2021. O’Malley said that training for the academy was based on the academy script. autism-based training to show how the scenario might be different if someone with autism spectrum disorder was involved.
She said the training emphasizes the importance of being able to tell if someone is overwhelmed, on a sensory level, and understanding how officers can reduce this, such as through noise canceling headphones or fidgety toys. O’Malley said the first officers trained on the subject received a sensory bag containing some of these helpful items, but the grant funding it ran out.
She also said the training also stresses the importance of telling the person what the officer wants them to do, not what they shouldn’t do.
She said she started the practice with a video of a call in which a police officer approached an autistic person.
“It goes from nine seconds from the moment the police see it until they intervene,” she said. “If they can step back, really analyze the situation a little better, it’s a lot safer for everyone involved.”
Training is really about safety for everyone, including the community. That’s why community involvement and education are just as important, O’Malley said.
“If the person who called (the police) had just a little knowledge of autism,” she said, “through his key social cue, through his speech, the intonation of his speech, they really could have say and they wouldn’t even have had to call to put the police in this situation.
O’Malley said she’s encouraged to see communities like Hurricane host events where people with autism spectrum disorders can get to know first responders in a low-stimulation environment.
“Now is the time to do it, not when a 911 call has been made. This is not a teaching moment. I mean, everyone is in crisis,” she said. “You need to get those teachable moments before the crisis hits.”
O’Malley said he heard positive feedback about the formation of the academy. A mother of a child with autism spectrum disorder said one of the former cadets who completed the training later went to a similar community event.
“They get to know the families in their communities,” she says. “So, you know, they build relationships, so if they get a call and go to a house, the child or the adult will already be on their radar.”
The Safe Interactions training will last four hours and will be free for all active duty officers. Participants can receive four continuing education credits.