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Utah police develop Autism Safety Roster

(KUTV) In a state with the second highest autism rate in the country, a Utah police department announced on Thursday a new tool that officers can use when responding to emergencies involving autistic kids and adults.


Unified Police Department developed the Autism Safety Roster, an online system to collect pertinent information about autistic citizens and ensure their safety during crises.


“People can go to our website and enter specific information about their children or loved ones that have autism,” Winder said. “That information will then be entered into our dispatch system, so that when officers arrive they can be aware of that special circumstance."


An autistic adult or the parent of an autistic child can enter their photo, name, address and unique information about their condition.


“A lot of people with autism have sensory issues, so they may be overwhelmed by the sound of a siren, or flashing lights might set off feelings that they can’t control,” said Jon Owen, president of Utah Autism Coalition. “If you have this kind of situation, you might know not to approach with flashing lights.”


Other information may include sensitivity to being touched and echolalia, a repetitive speech pattern that could confuse officers giving commands.


With that information, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer can also be dispatched, is available.


Unified Police developed the system after Montell McDowell approached them following her nine-year-old daughter's traumatic ordeal in June. An officer responded to Megan's emergency, but, unaware of her specific condition, he did not know how to handle her.


"My daughter was having a meltdown. She can be aggressive, and she can bite. I was in the process of trying to keep her safe as well as working on a de-escalation program," McDowell said. "They did not have a CIT officer … They finally made a decision to take Megan away from me, to handcuff her, put her on the ground and stand on her."


McDowell doesn't blame the officers themselves. She wants to turn the bad situation into something positive.


"I knew the officers weren’t bad. They just didn’t have the right information and the right skills," McDowell said. "I don’t want that to happen to a family, and I don’t want officers to feel that they don’t have the tools to handle it right."


McDowell now lives in Murray, in a different jurisdiction from Unified Police, but she hopes Murray police and other agencies will adopt the system.


To enter your information or another's, go to www.updsl.org/autism.


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Copyright 2014 Sinclair Broadcast Group

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