ALTON, Texas (ValleyCentral) — As April marks Autism Awareness Month, the Alton Police Department is aiming to spread the education on how to appropriately and safely handle a traffic stop with someone who may be autistic.
Alton PD is offering a training course called ‘Autism and Law Enforcement, First Responders Risk and Safety Management.’
The course was designed by Dennis Debbaudt who with Sergeant Ruben Lozano with Alton PD said started this training program because he has a son with autism.
Debbaudt has traveled to a multitude of states spreading this educational course far and wide.
While in Florida, Sgt. Lozano said Debbaudt had seen two incidents where law enforcement apprehended a person with autism where the officers thought they were arresting someone who was being “defiant” and “not listening to commands.”
Although incidents similar to those have not been seen in the Rio Grande Valley, Sgt. Lozano said he wants everyone to be prepared for a situation. So, he has been named an instructor for the awareness training and decided to bring it back to the RGV.
Sgt. Lozano told ValleyCentral that this program has come down to the RGV in years prior, but it hasn’t become a yearly event.
“In the Rio Grande Valley, we haven’t really seen a big push for autism training and I’m lucky enough to work with an agency that really pushes it, so it’s an honor to be able to put these courses up,” added Sgt. Lozano.
Sgt. Lozano plans to offer this program at least twice a year beginning this year. He said there isn’t enough training for first responders in this area of education, but that all changes with this program.
A way the community can help officers detect someone with autism is by putting a bumper sticker on their car indicating someone in the vehicle has autism.
Sgt. Lozano said Alton PD has had a safety sticker program in place for the last four years and it has been a success.
Not only does the department offer stickers for those with autism, but also for those who are hard of hearing, have diabetes or Alzheimer’s/dementia.
You don’t have to be a resident of Alton to pick up one of their safety stickers from the police department.
When picking up a sticker, you’ll need to fill out a form. When the form is filed, what is indicated on the bumper sticker will also be associated with the license plate when an officer runs it through the system.
If you’re not comfortable with putting a sticker on your car, Sgt. Lozano recommends applying for a ‘communication impediment’ symbol at the DMV. The symbol would appear on a Texas driver’s license.
The autism training event will be Thursday, April 21 at the Alton Recreational Center from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Sgt. Lozano said there are only 40 spots available and will be based on a first-come, first-serve basis.
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program is free to everyone.