The Newport News (VA) Police Department has launched a new program aimed at increasing officers' awareness of individuals in the community with autism spectrum disorder and providing those officers with information to help keep people with autism safe.
The agency said on Facebook, "There are no obvious physical signs of autism, so police often don’t know whether or not individuals they encounter have it. Flashing lights on an emergency vehicle, for example, might cause a person with autism to become frightened and act out. Officers may not understand why some individuals with this disorder will not make eye contact with them, keep their fists clenched, or flap their hands. What may seem like a simple interaction with police could be a very traumatic situation for a person with autism and confusing to officers."
Project Guardian educates all NNPD officers about the common characteristics of the disorder, as well as ways to comfort these individuals and de-escalate any situations that may arise. NNPD has also created a database to hold information about local citizens with autism.
The agency said that participation in the Project Guardian database is voluntary.
The social media post concluded, "Parents and guardians are asked to submit basic information about the individual with autism, a photo of the person, and any special concerns officers should be aware of should they encounter them. The information will be entered into the city’s dispatching system, and the address will be flagged so officers and first responders are aware of the individual and their needs when they are called to the residence."