Helping Families Connect with Law Enforcement

March 25, 2022

People with autism are seven times more likely to have police encounters than their typical peers.

As a part of our safety awareness initiatives, we recently interviewed Jerry Turning, founder of Blue Bridge Training, 25-year police veteran, and proud father to his 17-year-old son with autism. Through Blue Bridge, Jerry provides training for first responders and supports families in helping to forge important connections with their local law enforcement.

Jerry offers some insight and helpful tips for parents.

Why is it so important for parents or caregivers to build bridges with their local law enforcement?

As parents and caregivers, who hasn’t felt the stares from strangers? While we are so familiar with the behavior of our loved ones, such as stims, vocalizations and other idiosyncrasies, it is often misunderstood by others.

Unfortunately, these behaviors can be misinterpreted by first responders and police officers as combative, belligerent, or even criminal. During times of stress or emergencies, when police are more likely to be called, anxiety could heighten these behaviors.

Raising awareness and making a connection with law enforcement can help build understanding.

What can parents do?

Sadly, I’ve surveyed hundreds of parents and learned that far too many are anxious or fearful of calling for help, not knowing how their loved one will be treated. Parents worry about their child being hurt. Some have concerns that if they call, they will be judged, which could result in their child being taken away. Even as a cop myself, I’ve had these same thoughts.

However, police are here to serve and protect.

Parents should know that they can take simple steps to allay these fears. Get to know your local police officer and let them get to know you. By doing so, you bridge the gap.

Does police training help?

Absolutely! New Jersey is doing a great job bringing autism awareness training to first responders. Many local law enforcement agencies have completed training.

Although first responder autism awareness training is very important, a power point or lecture will only take you so far. There is no amount of training that can compare to the impact of establishing a positive relationship with your local first responders who could be answering an emergency call.

But aren’t police too busy?

I hear this a lot and it is simply not true. Asking your police department to familiarize themselves with your individual family’s special needs is a valid and reasonable request! It’s not a special favor for them to meet and get to know your child.

Police have nothing more important to do than building relationships with their community. Community outreach and community relations are the way to move forward in modern policing.

Who should I contact to arrange an introduction?

It’s best to target law enforcement officers on the front lines or most likely to respond to emergency calls, such as Sergeants and Patrol Officers. K9 units and School Resource Officers are also key links to the community. Department leadership such as the Chief/Sheriff or Deputy Chief can set the tone and launch broader initiatives but connecting with those in the field who you encounter in the community is key.

How should I connect with them?

You can call, email, or just stop by the station.

Click for Sample Letter

Sample Letter:

My name is _________________.  I am the proud parent of a ____ year-old {SON/DAUGHTER} named ______________.  _________________ has autism and loves police officers.  I am reaching out to you because I am afraid that he will have an encounter with the police and he will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or mistreated due to his unique behaviors stemming from his autism.

Can you please assist my family by arranging a quick meeting with one of your police officers to give ____________________ (and the officer) a positive experience and begin the process of establishing a relationship with our local heroes?  It would mean the world to me.

Thank you so much for your time!


Remember to be respectful and polite. Be persistent if you don’t get a response right away.

Autism New Jersey has more great suggestions for encouraging your local police departments to build bridges, whether it be through a special open house or community outreach events.

Do you have any other advice?

There is no substitute for your personal introduction. Don’t overestimate what others know about autism, especially because everyone is so unique.

Experience our Power of Connection

Are you a parent who needs help figuring out how to get in touch with your local law enforcement agencies or first responders? Want to talk things through before taking the first step? We can help! Call our 800.4.AUTISM Helpline or email us at Our knowledgeable, compassionate helpline staff will be happy to answer your questions and do our best to connect you with autism-friendly law enforcement in your town.

This past year, Jerry presented as a keynote speaker at Autism New Jersey’s 39th Annual Conference about the critical need to bridge the gap between our loved ones with autism and local law enforcement. We’re pleased to welcome him back as a speaker at our 40th Anniversary Conference in Atlantic City this October.