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Florida: Bill requiring ASD training for police in state legislature

Dec 19, 2023, Orlando Sentinel: Can police avoid hurting autistic individuals? Central Florida cops learn how  

 A police training requirement is looming in the state legislature, part of an effort to protect vulnerable residents

Donna Lorman wanted her son’s green pop tube, so she tried to take it from him. Drew Lorman, a 31-year-old man with autism, protected it, pushing his mother back harder with each attempt to yank the toy out his hands.

“No,” he said during one try. “Move away,” he said in another.

Drew Lorman easily could have thrown his mother to the ground, or worse, had it not been for years of behavioral analysis Donna Lorman said brought him down from 96 aggressive episodes an hour to two or fewer in a month. But he could potentially face lethal force if a police officer tried to detain him without knowing that Drew, who stands over six feet tall and weighs more than 300 pounds, has the cognitive age of a 7-year-old.

That’s the kind of situation Donna Lorman, president of the Autistic Society of Greater Orlando and Osceola, said she hopes to prevent for her son and others with autism as she spoke before law enforcement officers from across the Central Florida region on Tuesday at the Kissimmee Civic Center. Following their demonstration of how the mother and autistic son interact, she high-fived Drew, signaling a job well done.

 “He had been trained to replace those behaviors, but if we don’t listen, then we’re going to bring them on — and then what do we have? Battery on a LEO,” Lorman said, using the abbreviation for law enforcement officer. “Easy, if we know what book we’re reading.”

Tuesday’s training comes as House Bill 829 makes its way through the Florida Legislature. Filed last week by Rep. Paula Stark, R-St. Cloud, the bill would require officers to receive at least four hours of in-person instruction on dealing with people on the autism spectrum, from techniques for identifying and interviewing them to de-escalation tactics and procedures in missing persons cases involving them. The bill is intended as a complement to the recently passed Protect Our Loved Ones Act, which authorizes local policing agencies to maintain a database of people with disabilities.

The proposed training requirements would further instruct officers on the restrictions in Florida’s Baker Act, which does not allow people to be involuntarily committed if they are diagnosed only with autism spectrum disorder, which is not a mental illness.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism, a proportion that has grown in recent decades as experts more accurately identify the signs at an early age and as cultural perceptions, particularly in communities of color, begin to shift. ….

Lorman, a longtime advocate, and Bal Harbour police detective Hector Gonzalez have trained thousands of officers throughout Florida and Georgia for nearly a decade, and on Tuesday used their adult children as examples in various role-playing scenarios. The pair held an eight-hour training session the day before at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, which Lorman said is one of two Central Florida agencies that mandate autism awareness training, along with the New Smyrna Beach Police Department….

Stark said her bill is the result of conversations with advocates and community leaders who signaled the need for added training for law enforcement. …


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