To help celebrate Autism Awareness Month, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department is starting an initiative in hopes of better serving the autism community. Their Autism Outreach Program is called FLPDCares and its purpose is to identify community members on the autism spectrum for police records, that will be kept confidential within the department.

All one needs to do is fill out a form on the FLPD website. Along with basic information and a physical description, the FLPD also asks for details like preferred method of communication or what sort of things the individual may react negatively to. The hope is that by having this information at hand officers can better accommodate to individuals with autism and improve the way they are served.

Among the program’s goals is the maintenance of a confidential database of residents with autism so patrol officers can access the file, assess an encounter, and react accordingly, said Police Chief Rick Maglione to Sun Sentinel of South Florida.

In 2017, Connor Leibel was detained by an officer at a park in Buckeye, Arizona. Leibel was 14-years-old at the time, but is autistic and has the intellectual ability of a six-year-old, according to SpectrumNews.org. The officer had approached Leibel, who was by himself playing with a piece of string, and minutes later, the officer had Leibel pinned to the ground.

According to the footage captured by the officer’s body cam, Leibel expresses to the officer that he is stimming, but the officer later tells his family friend that he thinks Leibel has taken drugs. ‘Stimming’ is a term used in the autism community to describe a method of self-stimulating, and normally refers to behaviors like hand- flapping, spinning, or repetition of words.

Leibel’s story is a great testament to why this program is being implemented. Some autistic traits are what police consider to be suspicious behavior in an individual, as well as the reaction to over-stimulation by sirens and lights. The action that the FLPD is taking to identify these individuals are important, as many autism training programs for police officers outside of the state of Florida are not mandated, according to SpectrumNews.

By implementing these changes, the FLPD will better serve their entire community.

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