TIPP CITY — The Tipp City Police Department hosted an open house geared toward better interactions between law enforcement officers and individuals with autism on Saturday in Tipp City Park.
The event was inspired by training attended by Tipp City police officer Parrish Brazel that highlighted autistic individuals as a substantial presence in the community at large, and how education on interacting with these individuals is now vital for those who serve and protect the public.
“We recognize that autism is growing at a substantial rate,” Parrish said. “As many as 1 in 50 people are being diagnosed now, and those people are seven times more likely on average to come into contact with police. We see that as a need for us as law enforcement officers to be ready to interact with these individuals.
“Getting more training under our belt will allow us to recognize if an individual is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder versus just being non-compliant. It’s another tool we’ll have to be ready and prepared to meet these individuals.”
Representatives from the Tipp City Police Department, Tipp City Fire Department, and Tipp City EMS were on site with various emergency vehicles and giveaways offered to guests.
Autumn Trails Therapeutic Riding Center of Springfield and the Dayton chapter of Canines for Christ were also present with several therapy horses and dogs for guests of all ages to interact with.
Goodwill Easter Seals was on site with a booth providing information on available services and assistive technology, and how these resources can improve communication between autistic people and others.
“A lot of times, the communication barrier is the biggest challenge we face with autistic individuals,” Parrish confirmed.
Representatives from the Riverside of Miami County Board of Developmental Disabilities were also on site to provide information on their services, including the Play and Language for Autistic Youth (PLAY) program, which allows families to better engage with autistic children.
“We at Riverside are really excited that the folks we serve with autism have the chance to interact with first responders, and that first responders are initiating this opportunity,” said community awareness and opportunities director Melissa Nichols. “Having folks in the community understand autism and giving people with autism the opportunity to interface with officers is really important.
“It provides a level of comfort so that when first responders encounter people with autism, they have a better understanding as to why they might be behaving a certain way or why they might not be responding to an order. It helps both sides have better understanding and close the gap.”
Brazel hopes that hosting the event in a calm and open setting will build mutual trust between officers and autistic individuals before an emergency situation ever takes place.
“This event really has a duel purpose,” Brazel said. “It brings these individuals here and gets them more comfortable with us, and it also does the same for officers. A lot of times, people with autism don’t understand the social role of a police officer, and they’re frightened or confused. By bringing everyone together on a calm and neutral basis, they’ll become a bit more familiar with us and see us in a positive light, and we can learn from their family and caretakers what works and what doesn’t work.”
Participating officers expressed an interest in continuing to host the event in future years.
“We’ve tried to bring a lot of resources together for people,” Brazel said. “If it’s successful, we’d love to do it again, and maybe bring in a few more agencies. We hope it reaches a lot of individuals and can kind of build each year.”