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South Valley Journal

Riverton Police complete autism awareness training

Dec 14, 2020 02:35PM ● By Travis Barton

Natalie Castro, Don Hutson and Trent Staggs stand outside the Riverton City Police Department. (Photo courtesy Riverton City)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

All 35 sworn officers of the Riverton Police Department recently completed in-depth training on how to interact with individuals with autism. 

The training, focused on how to understand and react to behaviors associated with autism, has enhanced the department’s ability to respond to calls for service that involve individuals on the autism spectrum, according to a Riverton City press release. 

“Our city seeks to generate positive citizen-officer interactions and innovative solutions in meeting the needs of our community,” said Mayor Trent Staggs in the press release. “Our department is an early mover in this area and I’m proud of our officers and grateful to have been able to connect them with this very important training opportunity that will benefit our amazing residents with autism.”

Training sessions took place in October and November. 

How to interact with individuals with autism is somewhat limited in police training beyond what is included in current police standards—the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training and certification. According to Riverton city officials, the new training provided an enhanced framework and specific strategies that can be employed when officers interact with individuals with autism. 

“This new training has provided us with the tools and tactics to respond with understanding, deescalate uncomfortable situations and prevent the need to use force as we interact with individuals with autism,” said Riverton Chief of Police Don Hutson. “Being proactive about this training will, without question, prevent us from having to be reactionary in our approach should a challenging situation involving an individual with autism arise in the future.”

Officers were trained in various topics including acclimation, communication, delayed response, dissociated speech, sensory overload, visuals and more. The training should also limit liability on the police department. 

Natalie Castro, an autism awareness advocate, provided the training. Castro has years of experience training law enforcement and owns her own Draper-based practice, Pieces of Inspiration. Riverton Police is the first department she has provided training for in Utah. 

“Out of all the departments I have ever trained, the Riverton Police Department is the most progressive and interactive department,” Castro said. “Responding to the needs of autistic individuals with enhanced understanding and patience will allow RPD to be more inclusive of the broader community.”

Riverton Police completing autism awareness training signals a shift in valley wide law enforcement efforts to reform the way police work with individuals with special needs. In 2019, West Valley City established a mental health court and contracted with a licensed clinical social worker out of the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute to better help the department improve how it handles individuals with special needs. 

In addition to the new training, the Riverton Police Department also participates in Project Safeguard. Project Safeguard is a partnership with other Salt Lake Valley law enforcement agencies and the community that allows law enforcement officers to access critical information prior to contacting an individual with disabilities, including individuals with autism or dementia. 

Knowing that information can often allow an officer to respond in the most effective way possible. Those interested in submitting information to Project Safeguard can visit rivertonpd.org to complete the online form. Submitted information is kept private and only used in emergency situations.