New training helps officers in situations with people on the autism spectrum

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 6:25 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Officers in training practice their shooting skills but they will soon have a new tool in their arsenal. The West Virginia State Police Academy now requires specific training on how to handle people on the autism spectrum.

F/Sgt. Kenneth Murray is the Deputy Director of Training and helped supervise the first course.

“Training officers on how to recognize those on the autism spectrum gives them that split second and refer to their training giving themselves time and distance to de-escalate the situation and handle it appropriately,” said Murray.

This was all made possible after Senate Bill 634 which passed in West Virginia. It requires all officers graduating from the police academy to take the four-hour training course. Cadets completed the first one Monday.

Murray has two kids on the autism spectrum, which played a key role in making this possible.

“It wasn’t just me, there were parents calling in, requesting this training be done,” said Murray.

The West Virginia Academy collaborated with Jim Harris, state police and others at the W.Va. Autism Training Center at Marshall University to create a curriculum for the course.

“We built it from the ground up. We have specialists on traffic stops and domestic calls (who) came up with scenarios where we could better equip cadets,” said Jim Harris, W.Va. Autism Training.

Murray said people on the autism spectrum are 50% percent more likely to come into contact with law enforcement.

“They may be non-verbal, they may have meltdowns, outbursts, (and the can lead to) times law enforcement officers who are untrained on the autism spectrum typically have a negative outcome and end up on the news,” said Murray.

Equipping law enforcement with knowledge to handle those situations effectively and safely right out of the police academy.

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