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Florida bill would mandate more autism training for police

Parent, CEO: Legislation will 'be here sooner than later'

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Last July, a police officer’s commands for a man with autism to lie down went unheeded; the man didn’t know what he was being asked to do and the officer fired.

A caretaker was shot in the leg. Officer Jonathan Aledda was charged last month with attempted manslaughter and misdemeanor culpable negligence.

Months before the shooting, state lawmakers failed to pass legislation calling for more police training for officers who encounter those on the autistic spectrum.

Lawmakers won’t make that mistake this year.

“The rate of birth with children falling under the autism spectrum is just going up so much that we knew that we had to put something on the books immediately,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, R-Broward County.

Victoria Zepp, who has a son with autism, worries about what could happen if her son were to have an encounter with officers.

“You know the fear that would go through my mind if my son were stopped and (he) panicked, or (he) didn't understand what the person was saying,” said Zepp, the CEO of Clarity First Consulting.

These negative encounters aren't the result of bad officers, but a lack of training, Zepp said.

Now, the Department of Law Enforcement is developing training for officers in how to identify and deal with situations involving a person with autism.

“They're already in the middle of working on it -- already in anticipation of this becoming law,” Jenne said. “So it'll be here sooner than later.”

There isn't a mandatory amount of training specified in the bill, but Zepp said she'll take quality over quantity on the issue.

“I'm less concerned with the hours,” Zepp said. “(I’m) more concerned with (questions such as) what is that going to look like? How is that going to come together?”

The autism training would become a part of law officers’ 40 hours of continued-employment training they receive every four years.