NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - The Newport News Police Department has launched 'NNPD Project Guardian'.
Police say this new program aims to raise officers’ awareness of individuals in our community with autism spectrum disorder and provides them with information to help keep people with autism safe.
Participation in the Project Guardian database is voluntary. Parents and guardians are asked to submit basic information about the individual with autism, a photo of the person, and any special concerns officers should be aware of should they encounter them. The information will be entered into the city’s dispatching system, and the address will be flagged so officers and first responders are aware of the individual and their needs when they are called to the residence.
There are no obvious physical signs of autism, so police often don’t know whether or not individuals they encounter have it. Flashing lights on an emergency vehicle, for example, might cause a person with autism to become frightened and act out. Officers may not understand why some individuals with this disorder will not make eye contact with them, keep their fists clenched, or flap their hands. What may seem like a simple interaction with police could be a very traumatic situation for a person with autism and confusing to officers.
Project Guardian educates all NNPD officers about the common characteristics of the disorder, as well as ways to comfort these individuals and de-escalate any situations that may arise. NNPD has also created a database to hold information about local citizens with autism.
Program leader, Det. J. R. Howser emphasizes that participation is voluntary, but she said it is vital to keeping people with autism safe.
“Officers can never be too prepared for any situation no matter the severity,” she said. “This is where I ask for your help in making our officers as prepared as possible when interacting with children and young adults with autism.”
Parents of adult children on the Autism Spectrum tell News 3 the new program makes them feel safe for the first time in years.
"It’s that security and that safety of knowing you know a little bit about my situation," explained Kalishia Mitchell. Her son is on the autism spectrum and is also bi-polar. "Lets not be afraid because we have protection we have officers out there and the system knows our babies."