Law enforcement officials train how to deescalate calls involving people with special needs

Law enforcement officers in Atlantic and Cape May counties spent the day learning how to improve interactions with people who have special needs or disabilities. They are asking the community to get involved as well.
“When an officer initially gets there, he doesn’t know why this person is doing it. He doesn’t know if they’re high, if they’re drunk. He doesn’t know if they have a mental condition,” says Chief Bruce DeShields, chief of defectives for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
Officers from the Atlantic and Cape May county prosecutor’s offices met with social service organizations to learn how to improve those interactions and to train offices on how to deescalate a situation.
“We’ve had situations where we’ve had encounters that have escalated. There have been injuries to officers and civilians. and we find out later that this person has a developmental disability. So that’s why the push now is to learn beforehand and have that information there,” says DeShields.
Both counties now have a special needs registry. Families can sign up their loved ones so that police officers have that information before they get to a call.
The ARC of Atlantic County says that these registries help immensely.
“It’s a win-win for us as a community, but also for our law enforcement partners to understand what they might be coming into,” says CEO Scott Hennis.
"If we have that person's background information, we know that this person has a developmental disability or that this person may be like this because they're off their medication. Sometimes you have autistic people that just by the fact that something changed in their normal routine sets them off. With this information, the officers that are arriving understand what's going on and know how to handle it,” says DeShields.
Atlantic and Cape May counties have links set up for their special needs registries on their respective websites.