San Leandro police receive autism awareness training

Eduardo Gonzalez,
Staff Writer

To the average American, April 1 is merely recognized as “April Fool’s Day,” an annual celebration devoted to pranks and hoaxes. However, this year, April 1 also marked the 48th anniversary of Autism Awareness Month.

According to, Autism Awareness Month was established in 1970 with the intention to educate the public about the challenges faced by individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which includes: autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder.

ASD is a serious developmental disability that creates difficulties for a person to socially interact and communicate and it is tied to the restriction or repetition of thought and behavioral patterns, according to This disability affects one in 68 American children, according to a most recent study from the Autism Society.

On April 2, the San Leandro Police Officers’ Association, a non-profit organization, hosted a barbeque at the San Leandro Police Department to raise money for the San Leandro based non-profit organization Regional Center of the East Bay as well as register children with ASD into their database.

The autism registration form included sections for the individuals’ name and address, communication skills, calming techniques, triggers and a check-box option that addressed whether or not the child is afraid of law enforcement. The information provided in the forms will be accessible to all officers on duty along with a photo of the individual. This will serve as a guide to properly communicate with those who are reported in a “crisis situation.”

“Maybe [individuals with ASD] ran away, they are missing, they are overstressed because they are overstimulated or they are reacting,” said Officer Justin Blankenship, the founder of SLPD’s ASD program. “Sometimes they can react physically so we get calls that they are assaulting family members.”

Some common ASD traits can often be perceived violent and if an officer is not properly trained to respond the consequences can be fatal.

In 2010, two Los Angeles Police Department officers were involved in the shooting death of Steve Washington, an African American man with autism because they felt “threatened” by his lack of communication and actions during their interaction.

For the entire month of April, SLDP officers will wear a custom police badge with the autism puzzle-piece logo to demonstrate that they have been properly trained to interact, recognize traits and respond to individuals with ASD.

They will also receive updated training as recommended in Senate Bill 1531, which was approved by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, on Sept. 30, 2008 and requires training and standards be established for all law enforcement officers.

SLPD is not the only division that has taken the initiative to go above and beyond to train their officers and potentially avoid conflict when encountering people with autism.

In 2016, San Francisco Police Department made a training video for officers to recognize these individuals and “respond appropriately to de-escalate potentially explosive situations.”

The video was praised online by citizens and critics because of its unique demonstration of a point-of-view from people on the autism spectrum. They talk about their inability to keep eye contact, sensitivity to touch and attraction to shiny objects.

“In making this video, we were hoping to give our officers an extra tool in how to recognize some of the traits of individuals of individuals who are on the autism spectrum,” said police commander Robert Moser in an interview from KTVU.

Autism awareness education and training are not made exclusively for government officials.