Caretakers, legal guardians and parents of individuals or children with autism, Alzheimers, dementia and other developmental or cognitive impairments in Humboldt County can now provide information to help law enforcement safely navigate incidents and the individual’s unique needs. 

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is implementing the new resource to aid officers in responding to incidents involving individuals with special needs to increase safety and peace of mind for caretakers, individuals and law enforcement officers.

HCSO Captain Sean Wilkin said the information will be especially helpful to individuals who are at an increased risk of walking away from their home or caretaker and becoming lost or disoriented. 

Wilkin explained that the protocols in which law enforcement officers are trained to respond to a crisis situation may not always be the best way to interact with people with autism or other special needs. 

“Because police are usually the first to respond to an emergency, it is critical that these officers have a working knowledge of autism, and the wide variety of behaviors people with autism can exhibit in emergency situations,” said Wilkin. “Teaching first responders the signs of autism is an important first step toward preventing unfortunate situations.” 

The form includes the ability to place an emergency contact on file, as well as common hiding spots, likes, dislikes, whether the individual can verbally communicate and other unique characteristics that can help law enforcement locate and interact with the individual in a safe way. 

The form helps law enforcement officers better understand the individual and their unique needs, which can be crucial for both the individual and law enforcement officers during an incident. 

“For example, if someone is drawn towards water but is nonverbal then that information lets us be able to communicate with the child or person easier,” said Wilkin. “Knowing favorite hiding places shortens response time.”

The information provided on the form is updated in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and records management systems (RMS) used by dispatchers and communicated to law enforcement when needed, with intentions to have the information on file and available before an incident occurs. 

Wilkin said the medical information on the form is only used to respond to an incident and maintained securely in accordance with medical information laws.

The program was launched this month in conjunction with National Autism Awareness month, recognized in April.

A person with autism might have an impaired sense of danger, wander to bodies of water, traffic or other dangers, be overwhelmed by police presence, fear a person in uniform, exhibit curiosity and reach for objects/equipment on a person in uniform, react with “fight” or “flight”, not respond to “stop” or other commands, have delayed speech and language skills, not respond to his/her name or verbal commands, avoid eye contact, engage in repetitive behavior, have sensory perception issues, have epilepsy or seizure disorder, etc. 

“If a first responder is able to identify that a child or adult may have autism, he or she can then respond in a way that best supports the individual,” said Wilkin. “Similar efforts are happening throughout many law enforcement agencies as an effort to respond in the best way possible in situations where an individual has special needs.”

HCSO deputies will also be required to complete annual training to develop skills and knowledge to aid in responding to incidents with individuals who have special needs. 

“Teaching first responders the signs of autism is an important first step toward preventing unfortunate situations,” said Wilkin.  “The goal is to create contacts and have a safe response. We’ve had no negative incidents related to it here and this is a great way to make sure that we don’t have any.” 

A copy of the form to submit can be obtained by emailing Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Captain Sean Wilkin at Sean.Wilkin@humboldtcountynv.gov or in person at the Sheriff’s Office, 50 W. Fifth Street in Winnemucca.