BLACKSBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – An Upstate police department is going the extra mile to serve and protect.
The Blacksburg Police Department has just gone through special training to help approach situations with people with autism. They are giving out stickers for people to put on their cars and homes, to let an officer know to approach the situation differently.
The entire department went through the training course to help those with autism in their community.
“If we’re trained to look for signs of autism, you know, it might just help us say okay, it’s probably this. Let me try to rephrase the question,” said Officer Shahna Blanton.
Officer Shahna Blanton approached the chief with this idea. She said she has seen this program work in other areas and wanted to bring it to Blacksburg.
“I think this could help a lot of people just be more comfortable with us and know that we can accommodate them,” she said.
Chief Jamie Ham said the training has given him a better understanding.
“It takes them time to process and answer and they think about the answer before they give it to law enforcement. So, prior to the training I would have thought that hesitation could be some indication that they’re trying to hide something. But now, you know, you can look at things differently,” said Chief Ham.
He said the training taught him people with autism can have certain stressors that cause anxiety.
“A lot of people with autism have a fight or flight response, and so, you have to recognize those things. Especially with those that have more severe cases,” he said.
Officer Blanton said the stickers are designed by local high schoolers and the community is getting on board.
Ashlan Grigg is a community member who has picked up one of the stickers.
“The Blacksburg Law Enforcement Autism Awareness program honestly brought me to tears when I first learned about it,” said Grigg. “Being the parent of a child with autism can be very scary especially when they are unable to communicate. I am so happy knowing my town officers have the training necessary to help not only my child but other individuals with autism in our community.”
Officer Blanton said the main thing she learned from training is to have patience.
“You may have to repeat yourself, you may have to be more specific when you ask for certain things. You may have to rephrase a question,” she said.
Chief Ham said it’s all about educating the community and the department.
“We have to educate ourselves, it’s not the people with autism, law enforcement needs to educate themselves. So, that they understand that the behavior that they’re seeing is normal behavior. That’s normal for them and so we need to tailor our response to their needs,” said Chief Ham.
People can pick up the stickers from the department between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
They can also reach out Blacksburg Police through social media or get a sticker hand delivered by an officer.