More than 450 New Jersey law-enforcement officers from approximately 150 different departments are scheduled to participate in one of two daylong autism recognition and awareness training sessions being sponsored by the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, marking an expansion of the program from its inaugural session held last year.
The two sessions of “Autism and Law Enforcement: Recognition, Response and Risk Management” will be held Monday, March 17 at Brookdale Community College in the Lincroft section of Middletown and Tuesday, March 18 at Bergen Community College in Paramus, with nationally renowned autism/law enforcement trainer Dennis Debbaudt of Port St. Lucie, Fla. conducting the training. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office is coordinating the program, which was introduced in March 2013, when approximately 300 law-enforcement officers from more than 100 departments underwent training at Union County College in Cranford.
The New Jersey Autism Study – a joint project by the New Jersey Medical School, the New Jersey Departments of Education and Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and numerous developmental health centers and school districts in the Garden State – determined in 2008 that approximately 1 in 49 children who were part of a study group in Union County were affected by an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. The National Institute of Mental Health defines such afflictions as developmental brain disorders, with the term “spectrum” referring to a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that those with an ASD can have.
Specifically, Debbaudt’s training details numerous scenarios that people diagnosed across the autism spectrum could become involved with and goes over the various ways in which officers and first responders can best react.
“Being able to recognize signs of autism is an absolute imperative for those working in law enforcement – it can prevent misunderstandings, forge stronger ties between police and the communities they serve, and even save lives,” acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park said. “We are thrilled to be helping so many sworn officers achieve this capability, and this is a cause to which we will remain dedicated.”
“Autism is a complex and diverse developmental disability that provides a challenge to law-enforcement officers called to respond to incidents. Recognition of the behavioral symptoms of individuals on the autism spectrum and the teaching of techniques of approach can greatly reduce risk factors to both the individual and the first responders,” said Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III, president of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey. “Autism is also the fastest-growing American developmental disability, with an estimated rate of 1 in 88 births nationally, but estimated even higher in New Jersey at 1 in 49 births. For this reason, it is becoming more and more probable that our law-enforcement officers will come in contact with children and adults with autism – and we want our officers to be responsive and understanding while safely handling situations they encounter.”