Helping Police Interact with Individuals with Autism
by Palm Bay Florida Police Department

The Palm Bay Police Department Autism Project fosters a multi-organizational approach to promote education and understanding of persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder and intellectual disabilities. Our goal is to reduce potential negative encounters during stressful situations.

The Palm Bay Police Department has partnered with the Wallet Card® Project to provide a quick and painless way to communicate with a police officer. The personalized wallet card lets law enforcement know what kind of reaction they may get from the individual. It can explain why an individual cannot answer the officer, triggers, and mannerisms that require the need for the officer to communicate differently.

The card confirms the individual’s diagnosis, common traits, and symptoms. After seeing the wallet card, officers can evaluate the situation and adjust their actions accordingly.

The program includes awareness and de-escalation training for officers and expands understanding of what to expect in a typical encounter with a police officer.

Here are several sample situations:

Traffic Stop: If an officer has observed a traffic violation or received information about the vehicle and/or the driver and initiates a traffic stop, it is important to do the following:
• When the police officer pulls behind you and activates his vehicle emergency lights and siren, safely pull to the right side of the road and out of the way of traffic
• Try to remain calm and relaxed
• Keep your hands where the officer can see them
• Do not exit your vehicle unless an officer instructs you to do so
• Do not reach for your wallet card without asking the police officer first
• If an officer asks you for your driver’s license, proof of insurance, or registration show the officer your wallet card

Other Law Enforcement Contact: An officer may need to talk with you because someone called the police, or you may be a witness. The wallet card could let an officer know to get in touch with a relative, explain what kind of reaction to expect, and advise how to defuse any situation that may arise. It is best to do the following:
• Keep your hands where the officer can see them
• Do not put your hands in your pockets, behind your back, or in your bag or purse
• Face in the direction of the officer when he/she is speaking to you
• If you are feeling anxious, this is an appropriate time to give the officer your wallet card
• Ask the officer if it is okay to show your wallet card

The City of Palm Bay recognizes that some members of our community may react differently when coming in contact with police officers or firefighters during an emergency situation. With this in mind, we have created an online registry for people with autism and intellectual disabilities. It is available for all residents. The information provided is maintained in a confidential database which will assist emergency responders in providing a more informed response. If you are interested in participating in this voluntary program, please apply at www.pbfl.org/autism

The members of the Palm Bay Police Department hope that families, citizens, and individuals with autism see officers as an ally and advocate. Let us know what you need and how we can better assist you and your family. For more information, please contact Sergeant Tina Hensel at 321-726-5652.