MURFREESBORO, Tenn (WKRN) — When police officers respond to 911 calls, they never know who they’ll meet at a scene. But in recent years, the Murfreesboro Police Department noticed a trend.
“We realized that we were having a lot of contact with children and adults with autism while we were doing our daily duties,” said Officer Quinten Peeler.
So MPD launched a new training course to teach officers how to spot, interact, and de-escalate encounters with adults and children with autism.
“Things that we can be looking for, the big one is going to be lack of eye contact with somebody. Looking around, not really looking at us. We’re also going to be looking at stemming. That’s a big thing I teach. Which is kind of a repetitive movement with the hands, or a flapping or rocking can be a sign of autism,” Officer Peeler said.
Earlier this month, that training paid off when a Murfreesboro Police officer pulled a woman over for a traffic violation. Her son grew anxious in the back seat, and she explained he was autistic. The officer bent down, spoke to the boy about his favorite TV shows, and even offered him a police badge sticker.
“Officer Spence was able to sit in my class, and not only retain the information that I’m teaching, but apply it in the field and have that positive community interaction,” Officer Peeler said.
It’s positive interactions like those that Murfreesboro Police are working to increase across the city.
“We’re always learning how to have better encounters. We’re always learning to have safer encounters with individuals,” Officer Peeler said.
The training is not mandatory, but the police department is working to certify as many officers as possible. The next training course will take place in May.