Forewarned is forearmed.
Picture this scenario: Police officers called to a high-stress situation, don’t get compliance to their verbal commands. The situation escalates. But if the officers know ahead of time that a deaf person is involved, they can be prepared with alternative ways to communicate.
Another scenario: The police arrive at a scene with sirens and bright spotlights, triggering an uncooperative response in an individual with sensitivity to sound and light. If they know ahead of time of the person’s sensitivity, they can approach without sirens and spotlights.
The Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) launched a Special Needs Awareness Program (SNAP) in March to improve police interactions with community members with special needs. The first step is identifying these individuals ahead of time through their voluntary registration with the SCPD. The database is confidential and secure.
With SNAP, first responders can be advised before arriving at a scene that a special needs person is involved and that special care needs to be taken to de-escalate the situation. First responders can tailor their response to whatever the situation requires.
By the end of April, SCPD sworn officers—more than 150—completed a day of classroom training in identifying the signs and working collaboratively with people with special needs, including those on the autism spectrum.
“Our level of training is high. We have a top-notch Training Unit that pushes our employees to be their best,” said Sgt. Greg Deger, Community Response Team Supervisor.
“We seek to be transparent in all we do, so I would invite our community members to not just take our word for it but also to come see it for themselves,” continued Deger.
Opportunities to interact with the police include participating in the Citizen’s Police Academy, the Chief’s Advisory Committee, Coffee with a Cop, ride-alongs or simply giving Deger a call at (408) 615-4745.
PEACE (Police Education and Community Engagement) is an upcoming program.
“We want our partners in the community to hear our message, but more importantly, we want them to see it for themselves through us working together, side by side,” said Deger, who has been with SCPD for 15 years and holds a master’s degree in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership.
Deger pointed out that some SCPD officers live in the city they protect and preserve. Some have loved ones with autism or disabilities.
“We’re trying to make this the best police department that we can for citizens,” said Deger. “We have buy-in.”
Residents eligible for SNAP include those with physical disabilities, cognitive impairments, dementia and autism. An eligibility list and a link to enroll is on the Santa Clara city website.
Crisis Intervention Specialist officers Carlo Calupad and RJ Otico will personally meet with SNAP enrollees and their families.
“We are passionate about SNAP,” said Deger. “SNAP is a way we can improve what we’re doing in the community. If we can avoid even one undesirable outcome, then it’s a success.”
April is Autism Acceptance Month (called Autism Awareness Month prior to 2021) in the U.S. Locally, the Pacific Autism Center for Education launched a new blog: “Keeping up the PACE.”