North Miami Police take part in autism training program

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (WSVN) - After a controversial police-involved shooting made nationwide headlines, a new training program at one South Florida agency aims to shed some light on how to handle situations involving people on the autism spectrum.

The cellphone video that was taken in July in North Miami has been seen around the world.

A man with autism was playing with a toy truck, which was mistaken for a gun. That man’s therapist, Charles Kinsey, ended up being shot by North Miami Police.

“If officers can have a better understanding of autism, the chances of something going terribly awry is going to be minimized,” said Coral Gables Police Lt. Bart Barta.

Barta has trained over 2,000 police officers on how to deal with people on the autism spectrum. He said he cannot comment on what happened in North Miami, but said he will be training officers there.

The chief requested the specialized training after the Kinsey shooting. “In the training with police officers, I tell them it is not a question if you encounter someone with autism, it is a question of when you encounter someone with autism and how are you going to manage that response,” Barta said.

This lieutenant has a personal connection. “When my son was diagnosed, he was 3 years old, and he is now 12,” Barta said. “Shortly after he was diagnosed, I realized there was a lack of training for law enforcement in this area.”

Officials use a training video that is not only for police officers but also for people on the autism spectrum. They’re given wallet cards, which is something easy a person with autism can hand to a police officer.

“So, if they have any specific triggers, any behavior challenges, sensory issues, communication challenges, that information can be included on the front of the card, and on the back of the card is an emergency contact,” Barta said.

Officers are taught that knowing what to look for and how to identify someone on the autism spectrum is key.

The training is part of North Miami’s 90-day plan in response to the shooting that’s rocked their city. “Ultimately, the goal of this training is to minimize misunderstanding and the chance of harm for the person who has autism or the officer,” Barta said.

Barta said his goal is to make the training mandatory for every police officer around the country. The training here is ongoing and is part of a wider crisis intervention training program aimed at helping train officers for difficult situations.

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