“So, I’ve been an advocate for over 20 odd years. I have a child with autism and I know that if a police officer would have stopped him and started pelting questions at him, our kids, their executive functioning just shuts down,” said Victoria Zepp with the Florida Coalition for Children. “They would say anything. They would parrot. They would do things.”
But, some, like Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo, are a bit skeptical about the new law.
DeLeo says the issue is personal for him since he has family members and friends with autistic children. He says while he was a South Florida officer, he also responded to multiple situations with autistic kids.
“So, I get the issue,” DeLeo added. “But, it’s very easy for the legislature to say, ‘Hey, we’ve addressed the issue because we said law enforcement’s got to take a four-hour class.’ That doesn’t fix the true issue. What it did it now creates an expectation that because our officers went to a four-hour class, it’s going to make it all better. But, we haven’t fixed the issue. We’ve dressed it up. We’ve put some wrapping on it. But, what we really need to be doing is to find out who is the best group of people with the right skillset to see it coming, intervene appropriately, and if we need to be there in a supporting role, that’s what we should be doing. But, we are not the best agency to be solving that.”
Still, Matt Puckett with the Florida Police Benevolent Association—which represents thousands of officers—says DeLeo doesn’t speak for all law enforcement.
“I don’t think it’s feel-good legislation,” he said. “I think it’s important legislation. I think that’s an incredibly insensitive statement for the police chief to make. If you talk to anybody who’s parent of a child with autism, that incident in Miami was their worse fear, their worst nightmare. SO, to better train officers on how to handle dealing with someone who’s on the spectrum to at least notice the signs…if we did nothing, but just that, we’re at least making some progress.”