A new state law that takes effect Sunday will soon require Florida police departments to establish autism training for law enforcement officers, more than a year after a North Miami police officer shot and injured an unarmed therapist trying to help his autistic patient.
The law, which Gov. Rick Scott approved in June, requires police departments to provide a training component on how to identify characteristics and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, as well as how to appropriately respond to individuals who display such characteristics and symptoms.
The legislation was passed several months after the July 2016 shooting of Charles Kinsey, a group home therapist who was shot in the leg by a North Miami police officer while trying to help an autistic patient on the street. The police union chief later said the shot was intended for the autistic man, Arnaldo Eliud Rios, whom the involved officer believed was armed. The apparent weapon turned out to be a silver toy truck.
North Miami leaders approved more training and higher standards for the police department in January, including a use of force and crisis intervention training review. This spring, both houses of the Florida Legislature unanimously approved similar versions of the autism training bill, which will apply to departments across the state.
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Matt Puckett, the executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, told WFSU that the training would help police officers be more effective and prepared.
“We’re having so many interactions with our law enforcement officers and people in the streets that are mentally ill, that are suffering from some kind of illness that makes their behavior abnormal, at least to what the current training standards are,” he told the station. “We’re trying to specify these things, so that officers are better equipped to handle this sort of stuff.”
About 1 in 68 American children have some form of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.