By lunchtime Thursday, all 83 of Anniston’s police officers completed training aimed at helping them understand and better respond to calls involving people with autism.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of calls for service in reference to people with autism,” Anniston police Sgt. Tim Suits said after the training. “We’ve not had any bad incidents, but we saw a need to educate ourselves better to be proactive.”
The training, hosted by Dustin Chandler with Interaction Advisory Group, was held on Tuesday and Thursday at the Anniston City Meeting Center to allow for all of Anniston’s officers to attend. Anniston Police Department’s corrections staff and several Oxford officers were present as well.
Both training days were funded by a grant from the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities, Chandler said.
Chandler, who worked nearly a decade as an officer in Birmingham, started the company in October 2015 after he said he “recognized a need for training about people with autism and other disabilities.”
While Chandler worked as an officer he had a daughter born with a genetic disorder that results in seizures and severe neurodevelopmental impairment.
“I started seeing things differently,” he said. “I understood both worlds and started to see a big training gap for officers.”
Chandler covered de-escalation techniques, ways in which officers can identify someone with autism and also what to do in the event someone with autism has wandered off.
“This is what families in Anniston might be going through with right now,” Chandler said during the training.
During the training, Saks native Jeremie Goike spoke about his experiences growing up with autism. Goike was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old, he said.
“I had sensitivity to sound,” Goike noted. “I couldn’t stand to be around construction sites or mechanics shops.”
Chandler noted that those types of sensitivity issues could become problematic during a routine traffic stop.
“Imagine if you pulled someone over who has a similar sensitivity,” Chandler said during the training. “That person might try to move away from the area and that could look like they are trying to get away from you.”
Suits said he had received a lot of positive feedback about the training.
“This kind of training gives us the tools to provide a safer environment for the public and for us as well,” he said.