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Local police department launching database for people with autism, special needs

1/12/2022
Local police department launching database for people with autism, special needs

By Liz Kilmer, WPXI-TV

ROSS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Ross Township residents and visitors are being encouraged to register individuals with autism or other special needs via a new database overseen by the police department.

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The database will allow officers to access helpful information if they encounter an individual who may need special assistance, including to be reunited with caregivers or family members. Information can range from behavioral characteristics to required medications.

Det. Sgt. Brian Kohlhepp told Channel 11 that officers will be able to access the registry from devices within their patrol vehicles. They can search by entering a name, or other identifying characteristics, in case an individual is non-verbal or otherwise unable to communicate his or her identity.

he goal is to have a successful, safe encounter based on the person’s needs.

“If it’s someone who’s non-verbal or afraid of strangers, then we know to be much more careful with how we approach that person,” Kohlhepp said.

Individuals who suffer from memory loss or confusion can also be registered. The database can also be a way to expedite a search if someone has gone missing.

“This is one more tool in the toolbox, so to speak, for the officer to use, to try to achieve the best possible encounter result,” said Jesse Torisky, president of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.

Torisky supports the Ross initiative, and hopes other departments follow suit. He trains law enforcement officials and judges to understand ways to effectively communicate with people with autism, and de-escalate interactions.

“One of the things we focus on particularly is trying to keep them out of the criminal system in the first place,” he said. Having a database like the one that Ross officers are working to compile, works toward that objective.

“When you have ready access to a person’s proclivities, a person’s idiosyncrasies, it makes the encounter a lot more secure or safe,” Torisky said, “where the officer isn’t necessarily going to jump to conclusions about something, and has more information at his or her disposal to handle the situation more effectively.”

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