Above: Executive Director Bob Gittens at a recent training with the Cambridge Police Department.
Over the years in our Developmental Disabilities program, families have expressed their concerns to us about interactions that their children may have with law enforcement. Their worry is that the behavior of their child, which is due to their developmental disability or autism, may be misinterpreted as threatening or aggressive by the police. If a child is nonverbal and unable to respond to a question or instruction from law enforcement, the police response may escalate the situation and cause unintended serious consequences to the child.
The Family Support Center has begun to address this very real fear by hosting training sessions with local Police Departments and families. In these sessions, police share the procedures they use to work with children and adults with disabilities. They show families how to let the police know about the child or adult and their behavior prior to any emergency interaction. The police make it very clear to families that their goal is to understand and help, not to arrest or harm. In response, the families ask specific questions and share their past experiences with law enforcement. Not only do the police respond to those questions, but the experiences discussed offer insight into how police procedures might be improved.
The Family Support Center has already hosted trainings with the Watertown and Cambridge Police Departments, and is planning three more with other local departments. We are pleased to see already that these trainings are mutually beneficial. The police are grateful to the community for their honesty and willingness to have these important conversations, and families feel more confident that interactions between the police and their child will result in a positive outcome.