Michigan State Police, Secretary of State working to improve law enforcement interactions involving people with autism

MICHIGAN -Law enforcement agencies and Michigan Secretary of State continue working on ways to improve interactions with people on the autism spectrum.

On July 1st, new policy went into effect that allows people to designate communication impairments on their driving record. The law was passed last year thanks to autism advocate, Xavier DeGroat, who, in the past, had a negative experience with law enforcement who didn’t know how to interact with him.

“He was pulled over and the officer didn’t know how to properly interact with someone who had autism” says Tracy Wimmer, Media Relations Director for Michigan Secretary of State. “It resulted in him having an anxiety attack.”  DeGroat attended a press conference July 19th in Mason, on Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s tour of Department of State offices, where he spoke of his advocacy and experience with law enforcement.

In April, Michigan State Police received training on autism awareness – ‘Action for Autism’ – law enforcement were equipped with calming bags to carry in their vehicles to help support people with autism in stressful situations. They also learned how to improve communication and conduct in situations with people on the spectrum.

These efforts are added to their mandatory training each year in de-escalation which can be used in a variety of situations where police have to get involved.

“Part of this training is doing just that, is recognizing the signs that someone may be in distress,” says Major Michael Krumm of Michigan State Police. “Some of them may be having some other issues going on. And then really how to address those, you know, verbally through our communication skills, with our voices, with our body language, and bring it to a safe conclusion.”

MSP had recently applied for U.S. Department of Justice funding for de-escalation training, the deadline being July 22nd. The funding would be for less than $200k and expected around the first of the year, if awarded. The money would go towards more training for 2,100 MSP troops. The training can be applied towards working with people with autism.

“It’s applicable to every situation. You could be on a traffic stop, be on a death notification – you’re dealing with people that may have a disability,” says Maj. Krumm.

Communication impairment designation and increased efforts to communicate with people of different abilities helps keep them safe.

“That is something that law enforcement has increasingly become aware of, especially after there have been some extremely tragic deaths resulting from a law enforcement not being educated on how to interact with someone who’s on the spectrum,” says Wimmer.