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A new study shows health disparities cost Texas billions of dollars; Senate rejects impeachment articles against Mayorkas, ending trial against Cabinet secretary; Iowa cuts historical rural school groups.

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New AL law aims to improve police understanding of sensory needs

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Monday, January 15, 2024   

Police encounters can be stressful for anyone but especially challenging for people with disabilities. A new state law aims to improve police understanding and response to those with sensory needs.

It is estimated about one in 10 people in Alabama and elsewhere has a disorder which may not be immediately noticeable to law enforcement.

Darryl J. Albert, chief of police in Montgomery, said the new law requires police to undergo training every other year. For his department, he thinks it will help officers understand behavior "triggers," and provide the public with better support.

"We are going to look at some of the outlying things like flashing lights, when they come up on the scene that can trigger an individual with sensory needs," Albert explained. "Loud sirens, a lot of officers crowding a person, can cause problems. So, we've got to be able to recognize those things and adapt accordingly, and that's what this training is going to be focused on."

Sensory needs include conditions like PTSD, autism or dementia which may affect the way people receive information through their senses. The bill to create the law, called the "Cade Noah Act," was named after the son of Rep. Leigh Hulsey, R-Helena, who is on the autism spectrum.

Kulture City, a Birmingham-based nonprofit specializing in sensory needs, will conduct the training.

Julian Maha, co-founder of Kulture City, said they will give officers tools to do more than just create better interactions; they'll also save lives.

"If the officer is not aware of sensory needs or invisible disabilities, they could have a preconceived notion that the person that they're interacting with might be going through something else, for instance, a drug-related issue, an alcohol issue," Maha pointed out. "That could, in general, cause a lot of bias to that situation."

Maha emphasized their focus is on easily-recallable training, like CPR or AED training. They will also provide officers with items they can use on calls to lower stress.

"We provide them with sensory bags," Maha noted. "These will have sensory tools -- like fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, feeling thermometers -- where someone who is going through a stressful situation can communicate if they become nonspeaking in that moment."

He added the training will be updated every year to build on what officers are learning. And while the law only requires training every other year, he noted many departments are signing up to take it yearly.


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