WV governor signs bill to require autism awareness training for officers

West Virginia

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed a bill April 21, 2021, that requires law enforcement and correctional officers to be trained on the best ways to interact with those who have autism spectrum disorders.

“Research has shown us that interactions with law enforcement can be more dangerous for those with autism spectrum disorders,” Gov. Justice said. “Many times, these officers without training come to opinions that can lead them to suspect these people because their behavior may be something they can’t pick up on.”

The bill was created to allow the Law-Enforcement Special Standards Subcommittee to establish a course within the basic training curriculum to teach law enforcement and correction officers the appropriate interactions with people who have autism spectrum disorders. It also lets the subcommittee develop guidelines for officers to use to respond when a person who has an autism spectrum disorder is a victim of or witness to a crime or is suspected or convicted of a crime.

“Now, our first responders will receive the proper training on how to recognize and interact with individuals with autism and other mental health conditions,” Justice said.

The guidelines and courses would teach a variety of techniques including how to interview or interrogate someone on the autism spectrum, including techniques to protect the interviewee’s rights and ensure the legality of statements made; ways to locate an individual on the autism spectrum who runs away or is in danger and return them to safety while causing as little stress as possible; and how to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations to maximize the safety of all those involved.

“Senate Bill 634 is a really significant step in helping police officers and the community, in general, understand autism better and hopefully will prevent some really poor outcomes,” said Dr. Marc Ellison, Executive Director of Marshall University’s Autism Training Center. “I’m aware of only two states that require autism-specific training for police officers. So once again, West Virginia, at least in the world of autism support, is kind of a pioneer in leading the way.”

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