Attorney General Steering Committee Advancing Special Needs Response

March 01, 2022

At the end of 2020, the Attorney General’s Office issued Law Enforcement Directive 2020-14, creating a statewide framework for addressing mental health and special needs populations in New Jersey.

The directive establishes county working groups throughout the state to review policies, programs and protocols to maximize the effectiveness of their county’s response for those with developmental disabilities or in mental health crisis.

In addition, in order to share best practices, provide support and resources to all counties, and monitor the initiative’s progress, the Attorney General’s Office established a Statewide Mental Health and Special Needs Steering Committee to work collaboratively with the County Working Groups. Autism New Jersey’s Executive Director, Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, was appointed to the Steering Committee to represent the autism community, along with Paul Aronsohn, the State’s Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, and other law enforcement, human services, and mental health officials.

The committee began meeting last March and is making progress gathering information on best practices, developing a survey to better understand law enforcement’s and the communities’ needs to inform future initiatives, and connecting with county-level officials and advocates.

“Through Autism New Jersey’s own and others’ safety and awareness initiatives, we’re seeing a growing understanding among police officers and first responders about the needs of autism community,” observed Dr. Buchanan. “It’s an honor to serve on this Steering Committee to accelerate these efforts under the leadership of the Attorney General’s office and in collaboration with colleagues across the state. The Steering Committee is taking a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to long-term planning to make meaningful progress on individual, municipal, county, and statewide levels.”

“At our core, Autism New Jersey’s mission is to ensure safe and fulfilling lives for all those living with autism,” Buchanan added. “Ensuring law enforcement understands and can support those with autism and I/DD during a crisis or emergency is essential to achieving that goal.”