Simulation helps Ridgewood police better handle future encounters with people with autism

Anthony Johnson Image
Friday, April 26, 2024
Ridgewood cops get valuable training to detect people with autism
Anthony Johnson has the story in Ridgewood on the training exercises.

RIDGEWOOD, New Jersey (WABC) -- Police officers know plenty about training for certain situations, and now a police department in New Jersey is learning a new playbook when encountering individuals with autism.

In honor of National Autism Acceptance Month, Ridgewood police officers on Thursday took part in a simulation exercise developed by the JoyDew Foundation to help de-escalate possible situations with people who are on the spectrum.

The simulation will help cops recognize behaviors and traits of those who have autism, and will also provide valuable lessons on how to communicate with people who may be non-verbal.

"Using whiteboards, iPads, things along those lines that they are giving us here -- that's the unique thing, that's what we are going to use, and that's what's going to be very effective," said Ridgewood Police Officer Kevin McKeon.

Officers say they have gotten calls for people with autism having seizures, or calls from parents who can't control their behaviors. Most of the time, its for people with autism wandering the streets.

"Throwing out my notepad, drawing a house and I go, 'walk home?' and he just gives me a thumbs up," said Ridgewood Police Officer Hector Perez.

People with autism have seven times more interactions with police than people without.

The rate of autism in the United States is 1 in 100, and people on the spectrum are frequently victimized with two-thirds of them being the target of hate crimes and 50% if them being physically assaulted. That means they are very likely to have contact with police and emergency responders.

"A lot of times the behavior that you're going to see with autism in an emergency-type situation are going to look similar to either mental illness or substance abuse, and so being able to know, because you've seen it before, 'oh that's probably not those things, it's this thing,'" said JoyDew COO Karen Millican.

JoyDew has also helped foster a better relationship between people with autism and those who serve the community. Last year, it was with those in the medical emergency room at Jacobi/Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, this time it's with first responders in Ridgewood.

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