FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – The Fort Lauderdale Police Department has launched an autism Outreach program called FLPD Cares.
People with autism, or their family members or caregivers, can fill out a form and submit it to the police department. The information, which will be added to a database, will be kept confidential and made available only to patrol officers. The department said the process will allow officers who are responding to an incident involving a person with autism to prepare and appropriately handle the situation.
“If an officer responds, we already know that information ahead of time,” said Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione. “We will be able to arrive there armed with that information.”
Maglione announced the program Tuesday morning and was asked about the 2016 incident in North Miami.
“Those types of situations, which is an awful tragedy, can be avoided,” he said.
It began with a call to police about a possibly suicidal man armed with a gun. The man was Arnaldo Rios, a 26-year-old with autism, and the shiny object he was holding was not a gun but a toy truck.
A North Miami police officer fired, aiming for Rios, but instead hit his behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey. He survived but a viral video showed Kinsey on the ground with his hands up. He had been trying to coax Rios back to the facility.
“Even if it’s a momentary lapse in communication, we want to make sure we don’t misinterpret that individual’s behavior as being resistant or uncooperative,” said Maglione.
The FLPD Cares program also makes available a card for people with autism to carry on their person, to provide detailed characteristics of their condition. Maglione said it’s not meant to mark people with autism, but to help officers better manage calls and interactions.
“They may react negatively to being touched. Some folks when they feel comfortable may want to touch you, we don’t realize that person is affected with autism. The one thing that helps police officers respond to any incident is information. It may not be a disturbance, domestic violence or arrest situation, it may really just be someone that needs some help,” he said.
The online form can be found at .flpd.org/FLPD-cares.