April is Autism Awareness Month. Capt. Dan Baumann of the Waukesha Police Department says people with autism are seven times more likely to have contact with law enforcement.
Betsy Spalla’s 10-year-old daughter Anna is on the autism spectrum. While Anna speaks, she often doesn’t do so in the format of a conversation. Spalla added that’s common among children with autism.
“Our kids are not going to be able to respond in a yes-no format, or a back and forth way like you’d normally have through a conversation,” Spalla said.
In an effort to help prevent misunderstandings or tense situations, Waukesha PD is encouraging anyone with a special needs family member to fill out its Special Needs Form.
Spalla and her family filled one out.
“The things we included in the form are things that would make officers better able to talk to my daughter,” she said. “We told them about some of her favorite items, cartoon characters, other things she likes, that would make her more likely to respond to an officer if they find her wandering."
Information entered into special needs forms is stored in a confidential Waukesha PD database.
"Any time an address, school, or name in there is run, or is talked about, a flag shows up," Baumann said. "It allows our officers, prior to going into a situation, to know if someone with special needs is there, so that we're aware of what may or may not elevate their behavior or calm them down."
"We don't want to use unnecessary force on something that we could resolve by going into a situation and just knowing that a person needs a little more care or attention," Baumann said.
While Autism Awareness Month ends this weekend, Baumann said the form can be filled out and turned into Waukesha PD at any time.
Be sure and watch TODAY'S TMJ4 on Roku! We are the only station in Milwaukee to provide the latest news, weather and sports on the device. Search for us on Roku today!