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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Bills on Police Training

Several bills got the approval signature of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice during a virtual ceremony Wednesday. One of them will require training for certain officers who are responding to those with disabilities.

“I just thought it was a step in the right direction with people with disabilities, specifically autism, that can help the communities and families have a little bit of relief as far as what might happen if they get into an emergency situation or they need assistance with their loved one,” Phenia Simmons, who has two sons that are on the autistic spectrum said.

The bill requires law enforcement and correctional officers to be trained on the best ways to interact with those with autism spectrum disorders.

The West Virginia Autism Training Center Executive Director, Dr. Marc Ellison was a strong advocate for the passage of the bill.

“Senate Bill 634 is a really significant step in helping police officers and the community in general understand autism better and hopefully will prevent some really poor outcomes,” Dr. Ellison, Executive Director of Marshall University’s Autism Training Center said. “I’m aware of only two states that require autism-specific training for police officers. So once again, West Virginia, at least in the world of autism support, is kind of a pioneer in leading the way.”

“Thank you again, Governor, for your support in improving life quality for those in West Virginia living on the autism spectrum,” Dr. Ellison said.

The training and guidelines will be developed and conducted at the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University.

State Rep. Alan Silvia wants police officers as well as teacher aides in elementary and secondary schools to be better equipped in dealing with autistic children and adults.

“It’s very important that paraprofessionals are trained to deal with autistic kids,” Silvia said referring to certified teacher aides.

The 7th Bristol state rep also says police departments everywhere owe it to themselves and the public to require that academy recruits be given in-service training in how to interact with people diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

“Police lack mental health disorders training,” said Silvia, who was a Fall River cop for 22 years and a major crimes detective before being forced to retire as result of an on-duty injury.

Silvia in February introduced two bills relative to individuals with autism.

One bill would allow autistic children of parents living at home to remain on their parents’ medical insurance plan past the age of 26.

Silvia says the bill, which has 17 co-sponsors including local state Reps. Carole Fiola and Patricia Haddad, to some extent is pre-emptive in nature.

“The insurance companies so far have not declined coverage, but it’s not the law,” he said.

The original version of the other bill filed by Silvia and 4th Bristol District Rep. Steven Howitt includes a requirement for autism-related training for law enforcement agencies and teacher aides.

It also calls for the installation of video cameras in classrooms and school “quiet rooms” where children with autism spectrum disabilities are taught