Autism New Jersey Launches Law Enforcement Initiative
February 08, 2024
Autism New Jersey is proud to formally announce its Law Enforcement Initiative, a multi-phase endeavor to increase the adoption of autism-friendly law enforcement practices. Funded in part by a generous donation from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, Autism New Jersey is collaborating with individuals and entities in law enforcement at municipal, county, and state levels to advance best practices.
The Need for Statewide Coordination
An increase in calls to our 800.4.AUTISM Helpline that described how individuals with autism are often misunderstood and vulnerable during interactions with law enforcement coincided with a series of opportunities to give rise to this initiative. These included our Executive Director’s service on the Attorney General’s Mental Health and Special Needs Steering Committee, families sharing their stories in detail – both lifesaving and tragic, and conversations with law enforcement officers seeking training and statewide coordination.
“Autism New Jersey has always been a catalyst for statewide change, and the safety of individuals with autism is paramount to our mission,” said Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director. She continued, “We are leveraging our agency’s service navigation, clinical, and policy expertise as well as our statewide autism awareness efforts to ensure we meet the diverse and nuanced needs of both communities.”
A Thoughtful Approach
The complexity of this initiative demands a thoughtful approach and includes the following components: subject-matter expertise, extensive information gathering, and substantial relationship development, all designed to establish a network and processes that will increase communication and safety for all involved.
To expand Autism New Jersey’s subject matter expertise, we welcomed former First Assistant Prosecutor, Doreen Yanik, Esq., as our Law Enforcement Initiative Director and Kayla Torres, MPA, Community Engagement Coordinator.
“I am so excited to be in a role where I can make positive changes in the two worlds in which I have lived. Both professionally and personally, this is exactly where I need to be. This initiative is the perfect opportunity to be a part of raising awareness and effecting innovative practices,” said Doreen. “Through this initiative, we are bringing together autistic individuals, families, and the many layers of law enforcement to learn about current needs and efforts, identify innovative practices, and establish statewide standards.”
Autism New Jersey also established a Law Enforcement Advisory Committee (LEAC). Our LEAC includes professionals at varying levels of law enforcement, including the State Police, County Prosecutors’ Office investigators, and officers in local police departments. Members of the LEAC share their expertise, professional standards, real-world experiences, best practices, and connections to advise Autism New Jersey in its efforts to advance safety, communication, and collaboration between the law enforcement and autism communities. Autism New Jersey will also create sub-committees designed to address areas of need related to registries, driving, training, and working with autistic individuals, families, and group homes.
To gather information and develop relationships, Autism New Jersey is actively working on multiple fronts:
- Our surveys for families and law enforcement and helpline calls allow a glimpse into real-time and personalized experiences to inform our efforts.
- Autism New Jersey had the pleasure of joining the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP) at some of their recent events.
- In October, we hosted our first Leadership Roundtable. This well-received event was an important first step to bring together individuals in law enforcement to provide a forum for law enforcement to network, share their autism-friendly practices, and learn from their colleagues.
- In November, we had the honor of presenting to the First Assistant Prosecutors’ Association of New Jersey (FAPANJ) at the County Prosecutors’ Association of New Jersey’s (CPANJ) College.
At every turn, the law enforcement community has acknowledged the need for continued progress and is enthusiastic to join our efforts.
The next phase of our work will include formal dissemination of our preliminary autism-friendly practices list and establishment of a statewide autism law enforcement network.
The challenges faced by each community, both on their own and in combination, require thoughtful solutions that bring people together and acknowledge that there are numerous stakeholders involved. No one solution will be enough to support the needs of these two communities. Autism New Jersey remains committed to both the autism and law enforcement communities and welcomes all ideas and connections to advance this initiative on behalf of individuals with autism.We are deeply grateful for the generous grant support for our statewide Law Enforcement Initiative provided by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, which is made possible by the IOLTA Fund of the Bar of New Jersey. We also want to acknowledge a meaningful donation from PerformCare to support our efforts. If you would like information on how to support this initiative, please email email@example.com.
|Are you a law enforcement officer, prosecutor's office, or work in a related professional role? We welcome the opportunity to connect with you. Please email us at LE@autismnj.org.