New bill would require autism awareness training for Minnesota law enforcement

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A bill recently introduced in the Minnesota House would require autism awareness training for law enforcement to ensure safer interactions between peace officers and persons on the spectrum.

HF-3630 would set aside funding for local law enforcement to attend in-service career training programs on a frequent basis.

"Making sure there are some standards for recognizing behavior that might be suggestive of someone on the spectrum I think is very important and help ensure that everyone is safe," said bill co-sponsor Rep.Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley.

Rep. Freiberg has a child with autism, which is why he’s pushing to see the bill turned into law.

"Making sure law enforcement is able to recognize what is going on in a time of crisis is very important to me personally," Freiberg said.

Police in Eagan, Brooklyn Park, St. Paul and Woodbury are just some of the departments in the state that have received training at the Autism Society of Minnesota.

"Really more than anything it provides an awareness,” said Woodbury officer Scott McCafferty, who attended the training. “Kind of a reminder to slow things down to be a little bit more patient and take your time in scenarios that you might otherwise kind of rush through."

McCafferty said the training helps him direct the type of questions that he might want to ask if he learns ahead of arriving on the scene or determines on the scene it is a person with autism.

The Autism Society of Minnesota said its training also provides officers with knowledge of how to de-escalate a situation.

"If we do have an emergency or if we do have an unexpected situation — out in public an emergency responder is going to have the knowledge to do that in a safe and respectful way,” said AuSM Community Resource and Policy Advocate Jillian Nelson. “That helps us get home safely and happily, versus some of the alternative outcomes."

The Carver County Sheriff's Office recently provided window stickers for persons with different conditions, including autism, who want to declare that information on their door for law enforcement before coming into a home.

As of Tuesday, the bill remained in the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division committee.