HARTFORD — The legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee Wednesday unanimously backed requiring police officers to undergo additional training on how to deal with individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, and Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, originally focused on autism training, but members of the committee broadened the bill.
Rep. John Fusco, R-Southington, a member of the committee, said police support for the legislation made it even easier to move the bill along.
“I think this is a good time for this bill — I think we’re seeing the autism spectrum expand as time goes on, and I think this couldn’t come at a better time,” Fusco said.
Linehan introduced the bill after a September incident involving Logan Gibbons, 15, a Southington boy on the autism spectrum who wandered from home and was located by police in Cheshire.
Cheshire police, who underwent training on identifying those with autism, were able to recognize this and kept Gibbons under supervision until his family arrived. Linehan and Gibbons’ family have said the incident could have ended differently.
Linehan reiterated this concern Wednesday, saying police might see behaviors typical of people with autism as being suspicious or confrontational, including not communicating verbally, clenching fists when stressed, or other actions.
“There’s even the fear of looking someone in the eyes... that can mirror drug abuse, drug usage, or any kind of instability,” she said.
The training would focus on how to identify individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, as well as appropriate responses. Linehan said this can include having white boards or picture books available to help with communication.
Cheshire police also maintain a voluntary registry of residents on the autism spectrum, a book that includes contact information and tips on building rapport.
The Police Officers Association of Connecticut, which represents 1,200 officers in 22 municipalities, backed the bill during a public hearing last month, saying its members “recognize that people with Autism Spectrum Disorder often face significant challenges in social and community settings.”