By Marie Puleo, Lighthouse Point News Reporter
Last month, the Lighthouse Point Police Department launched LHPPD Cares, a new special needs outreach program designed to help improve interactions and relationships between members of the police department and those in the community living with autism.
Lighthouse Point residents are now able to voluntarily provide pertinent information about their autistic family members that will help police officers be better prepared, and have a better understanding of any behavioral challenges that may exist, when responding to calls for assistance. The information provided will be entered into an autism outreach file and kept confidential for police personnel only.
“We do get called upon to help family members deal with individuals who have behavioral problems, some that are autistic,” said Lighthouse Point Police Chief Ross Licata. “We recognize there’s a need for a program like this in our community, and other places.”
In some cases, a person with autism could be acting out or uncontrollable, or they may have walked away from their house, and the family needs help finding them. When people sign up to participate in LHPPD Cares, they provide a photograph of their loved one and information that can help police officers locate them.
Some people with autism may have very limited communication skills, or may be sensitive to touch, people getting too close, being looked directly in the eye, loud noises or flashing lights. The person may appear to be agitated or under the influence, and if the police don’t know the person has an autism or behavioral problem, they may think the person is being disruptive or noncooperative, said Licata.
The purpose of the new program is to try to alert police officers before they get to an address where an autistic person may be displaying those signs, which can help the officers know how to communicate with the person and what to expect.
“The more information you have leading up to a police encounter, the better off it’s going to be for the police and the autistic person,” said Licata.
A few years ago, the state of Florida made it a requirement that police personnel be trained in how to interact with people with autism, and how to recognize some of the indicators of behavioral problems.
The creation of LHPPD Cares originated at a recent meeting of the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association, where all of the municipalities represented made the decision that they were going to initiate a program to help their law enforcement agencies deal with people with special needs, including those with autism.
“I think the program exemplifies the type of policing that we do,” said Licata, “because here in Lighthouse Point, we really do care about the people that we serve, and we want to be able to provide outstanding services and resources to every resident under every circumstance.”
Anyone wishing to participate in the program can go to the Lighthouse Point Police Department website (www.lhppd.com) and complete an online form, or download, print and bring the completed form to the police department. The completed online form will automatically be sent to the program coordinator, Community Policing Officer Paul McCormick, who will then enter the information into a confidential database. A printed copy of the form may also be obtained at the front desk of the police department (3701 NE 22nd Avenue, Lighthouse Point), to be completed and returned for processing.
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