HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The Suffolk County Police Department is now the first in the country to offer a certain comprehensive disability training to new recruits.
The Niagara University First Responders Disability Awareness Training is an eight-hour course designed to help officers recognize and respond to people with an array of mental and physical diagnoses.
“Take autism for instance, someone who’s not on the spectrum is going to respond to commands differently than someone who’s on the spectrum. If an officer gives an individual a lawful command and there’s a delay and perhaps a stare, that’s not necessarily a threat to the officer if the officer is equipped to recognize that that person has a certain disability,” Police Commissioner Tim Sini said Wednesday.
Previously, officers were required to attend a two-hour course, but Sini said the new program is more robust.
The training covers a dozen of diagnoses, including autism spectrum disorders, tourette syndrome, epilepsy and seizures, Alzheimer’s and dementia, ADHD, visual and hearing impairment, as well as intellectual and physical disabilities.
CBS2’s Dick Brennan reports police would be asked to look for certain signs in people they encounter, including unusual facial expressions.
“It’s very important that we understand that not all people react to certain situations the same,” Sini said. “We need to make sure that we’re evaluating situations so that we are always treating people with dignity, that we aren’t engaging in any actions that aren’t justified, that we’re always working to deescalate situations and that we’re there to help.”
The commissioner credited Amityville mother Vickie Iregbulem for prompting the expanded training. She approached county officials to say she feared, that in a potential encounter, officers might mistake her autistic son Bentley’s movements.
“His reaction is to freeze and not quite understand what the commands are,” Iregbulem said. “Some people may not understand he has a disability, they may see his color first.”
In 2013, a mentally disabled man got into a struggle with Suffolk County Police and died after officers used a Taser on him.
However, Sini said the new training is not in response to a specific case, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported.
Sini said the new disability awareness training will be rolled out to current officers as part of their field training and then taught to the next class of 175 police recruits starting next week.