CAPTAIN KIM HAuG Member Engagement

Putting Forth the EFFORT

A siren and flashing blue lights suddenly behind you. A car accident. A fire in the home. Police officers are involved with elements that are unfamiliar and scary.These moments can be especially traumatic for someone with autism. I wanted to bridge that gap and show them that officers are not scary, and that we are there to make a situation better, not worse. EFFORT (Enabling Friends for Our Re- sponse Teams), a program of the Montgom- ery County, Virginia, Sheriff ’s Department, began when a woman working for the sher- iff ’s office, who has a son who is autistic, came to me and requested that we do something for the special needs community, includ- ing individuals with intellectual disabilities. There had been a few incidents between law enforcement and her teenage son, and they were pretty scary for her. At one point, he had a comfort item in his hand and was com- manded to put it down. He didn’t respond, not because he didn’t understand, but because he was afraid. The situation escalated pretty quickly. She was concerned that maybe in the future, as he got older, that situation could have gone really badly. She said that for some parents, the last thing they want to do in any situation is involve the police, because parents don’t trust the police to make the situation better. She came to me a few times and I started to think about it. We had had a meeting at the

then you throw in the special needs aspect. Even a parent getting a parking ticket could be traumatic for somebody with autism. I wanted a day with fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, and everybody in uniform. Folks got to interact with us on a fun level, and they got to learn about the jobs that we do. They did the obstacle course that the officers do at the academy. They got to use the fire hose. They got to see the back of an ambulance. They took home photos of themselves with the cops. They got certificates, medals, and awards for doing the obstacle courses. Ongoing Training Throughout the year, we train new officers who come in, and it’s open to volunteers. Anyone can come to us or to the fire and rescue departments and provide training. We need ongoing training about the needs that we have in our community. We need to be better trained to handle individuals with disabilities. We want those families to trust us. Continuing training will be the key part of keeping this going. The organizations that we have developed relationships with have been phenomenal. I was really surprised at how important those connections with DARS, IDA, and Special Olympics have been. We’ve partnered with them in some things before, but it’s been

beginning of the year with the sheriff, and he’d laid out his community-driven vision for the office.Clearly,we were going in a different direction. I know her son on a personal level, and it struck a chord that we do needed to do this. Why not me? I approached Sheriff Partin with the idea of having a fun day at the sheriff ’s department. I quickly realized that I was out of my element with the special needs community, and I needed help and guidance. I invited a lot of people from the special needs community, from schools, Special Olympics, DARS (Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services), IDA (Individuals with Disabilities Association), and other agencies in our area that work with special needs, along with law enforcement and first responders for a big brainstorming session. I told them some of my ideas and we went forward, always with the guidance of the people in the special needs community to make sure that everything was going to be helpful and right, and that we wouldn’t do anything silly that would make the situation worse. My vision was to bridge that gap between the special needs community and law enforcement because there wasn’t a lot of trust between individuals with special needs and their families toward law enforcement, due to bad experiences. It was not just law enforcement, but fire and rescue as well.Those can be really scary situations for anyone, and

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