California Sheriff’s Office Set to Finish Autism Training for All of Its 1,150-Plus Deputies

We’ve all heard stories about police encounters with autistic individuals going very wrong. Many law enforcement agencies have taken the initiative to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes. A group of California deputies are among the latest to undergo training to better understand how they need to interact with those with autism.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office chose to add an autism workshop 15 years ago as an academy requirement. All of their deputies – numbering more than 1,150 – will have gone through it by the beginning of 2021. This is part of the agency’s three-day crisis intervention training.

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SANTA CLARA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

The Autism Society says such training is important because roughly one in five young adults with autism will have an interaction with a police officer before the age of 21, and people with disabilities are five times more likely be jailed than those without them. They’re also more apt to be injured or killed during police interactions, due in large part to lack of training.

Three dozen deputies and recruits recently received this training from Brad Boardman, executive director of the Morgan Autism Center, a school and day program for children and adults with autism. Boardman says it’s important for officers to better understand those on the spectrum.

He explains, “Having an understanding of what autism is – what autism looks like and challenges associated with autism – will help them get through these interactions in a positive way.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SANTA CLARA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Boardman uses the video “Autism and Me” to explain the vast differences between individuals with autism. Some may go to school or work, while some may not be able to take care of themselves or speak. Many don’t follow usual social norms, including allowing personal space.

Boardman also helped officers better connect with the autistic community by inviting them to the center, before COVID-19 hit.

Deputy Matthew Clark appreciated the chance to learn more so he can apply those lessons to his work. He says, “I need to be more patient. I need to slow things down. I need to make sure the person understands the questions I’m asking them.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SANTA CLARA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

There is hope that such training programs could get more funding. Congress is currently considering the Law Enforcement Education and Accountability for People with Disabilities Initiative. Among other things, it would give nonprofit disability organizations grant money to develop safe interaction programs for police.

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