The city of Groton is taking steps to better assist citizens on the autism spectrum.
In a collaborative effort, the town of Stonington is sharing their award-winning autism software with the city. It’s a voluntary opt-in program that gives officers information on how a person on the spectrum communicates, places they like to go to, unique behaviors and more.
For example, if a person at a home officers are responding to has a hearing sensitivity, police will know not to run their sirens.
The software also maps out the bodies of water in the city, from pools to beaches. Drowning is a leading cause of death for people on the autism spectrum.
“It’s not if you’re going to deal with somebody on the spectrum, it’s when,” City of Groton Police Chief Michael Spellman said.
Spellman was on the Board of Selectman in Stonington at the time the software was being developed.
“There’s no additional expense. Just salary and want-to,” he said, adding the software is an add-on to the system they have now.
About one in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If first responders come to my home, I want them to know that I have a kid here with issues. Not just barge in here if I have a problem and expect my son to act like a normal kid would act,” Officer Bobby Harris with the City of Groton Police said.
Harris already has 19 years of training on how to respond to a person on the autism spectrum. His son Cameron has Asperger’s.
“I can offer a lot to parents in this area because I know where to get help for their kids,” said Harris, an advocate and resource for families in the city.
He’ll also be training his fellow officers. Harris is newly certified as an Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC) instructor. He’s one of the few certified in the state and will be training other officers in Connecticut how to interact with those on the spectrum.
All Groton City Police and Fire Departments are already ALEC trained. Since then the department’s use of force has gone down, Chief Spellman said.
Groton police are planning to host a touch-a-truck event to inform parents about the new software and familiarize those on the spectrum with emergency vehicles, Spellman added.
Eventually he wants to add people with dementia to the program.
Mayor Keith Hedrick said in tandem with Stonington, he hopes it expands even more.
“In the future we’re hoping we can continue this and make this a regional effort,” Hedrick said.