West Pelzer police chief starts new initiative

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WEST PELZER, S.C. (WSPA)- The Autism Responder Alert program is a way for officers at the West Pelzer Police Department to become more familiar with the autistic community in town.

The goal is to make everyone more comfortable if someone on the autism spectrum were to be involved in a 911 call.

Police Chief Scott Stoller said a lot of times the relationship between law enforcement and people with autism is a foreign territory.

“We’ve had situations where those with autism might have been tazed or arrested, may have been resistant when in fact they were just scared, so we want to break through that,” Stoller said.

That’s why this new training is a priority for the West Pelzer Police Department.

It’s happening in three parts.

First, Stoller says teaching officers the signs of someone who may be on the autism spectrum.

“Someone who may be afraid, who may not communicate very well, who may have poor eye contact, who may have no verbal communication at all,” Stoller said.

Second, allowing officers to interact with folks with autism outside of an emergency call, so they can become familiar with each other.

“The time to learn about the people that are going to come help is not during a time of crisis. The time to meet each other is when there is no emergency,” Stoller said.

Last, giving out autism responder alert stickers to families in West Pelzer with an autistic family member.

“That way us, fire, ems, anyone that has to deal with them on the public safety spectrum would know there’s someone inside, maybe someone inside that is on the autism spectrum,” Soller said.

For Stoller, the heart of the training program goes a little deeper.

Stoller said, “My daughter Kathleen, she’s 26. She’s on the autism spectrum. She was diagnosed when she was three, three and a half years old.”

He says he hopes his experience with his daughter, will help others learn autism awareness.

“People need to be aware because people with disabilities aren’t disabled, they’re different abled. They’re not lacking, they may just be different abilities,” Stoller said.

The West Pelzer Police Department is also opening up this training to community members, if they want have greater autism awareness.

You’re asked to contact the department for more information.

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