New Law Adds to Law Enforcement Responsibility

New Law Adds to Law Enforcement Responsibility

TALLAHASSEE — A new law mandating law enforcement training for dealing with autistic individuals has the sheriff and chief of police asking “Why us?”

The Florida legislature passed a new law on May 5 requiring law enforcement to undergo 40 hours of training on recognizing and appropriately responding to individuals with autism. This legislation follows a 2016 incident in South Florida in which a therapist was shot by law enforcement while trying to protect an autistic client.

Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil and Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo discussed the challenges facing law enforcement at a recent Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates (NEBA) meeting. Both were clearly concerned about the ever-increasing responsibilities placed on police officers/deputies when responding to stressful situations.

“Why are we the first to go? Why?” McNeil asked. “We have EMS, they’re trained for medical situations. When there is a fire, they call the fire department and law enforcement goes as back up. We have a mental health situation, why can’t we send a mental health provider with law enforcement as backup?”

“We’re expected to do everything’” he complained. “For mental health situations they call the Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) or they call Tallahassee Police Department (TPD). We go to a house because a guy won’t take his medications. The guy’s not mentally hisself anyway, so we get there and what happens? By just us showing up the situation escalates.  When someone slaps one of my deputies up side the head, he’s committed a felony and is going to jail. If a mental health provider had responded, this might have been avoided.”

DeLeo explained,”No, we are not the best intervention for a lot of these social issues but the reality is that in many cases, we’re the only intervention. We’re the only ones that are open 24/7, 365 days a year. We’ve talked with mental health workers about responding with us. ‘You mean come out after 5 o’clock? on the weekend?’ We talk about wanting to make it better, but that’s gonna take a change in our business model, for everybody.”

DeLeo explained what he called “ unrealistic expectations” put on local law enforcement and the burden of that responsibility.

He said, “We talk about crisis intervention and LCSO and TPD have large numbers of our officers trained in crisis intervention. It’s additional schooling above and beyond regular schooling. Every year we send more and more officers for that training. But the truth is the uniform is not the most inviting or calming.”

“When people call us, they are in crisis. They don’t know who else to call. The only way for us to start that referral process is for us to show up. And sometimes, with our presence, we don’t make it better,” he said.

“Everybody mandates special training (for law enforcement) for the things that medical doctors and psychiatrists and psychologists go to school for years for,” DeLeo said. “It takes multiple visits to the doctor’s office and diagnostic testing, so they can diagnose somebody. The expectation is that one of our officers/deputies is gonna show up on a scene and within 15 seconds diagnose someone and treat them appropriately. That’s what you are asking for. And it’s not just autism, its any other medical condition somebody might have, from diabetes to other mental health issues.”

“That’s the burden you are placing on these men and women,” DeLeo said.

“It’s a very difficult situation and we really need to be looking for the alternative organizations that should be intervening prior to, or who we can partner with,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo called the new law “feel good legislation” and said it does not really help the families who already have a very difficult struggle with their children or their adult children.

“We are creating an expectation that because an officer went to a four-hour class, it’s gonna make it all better. We haven’t addressed the issue. We’ve dressed it up and put some wrapping on it, but we need to find who is the best group of people with the right skill set to see it coming and intervene appropriately with law enforcement in a supporting role. That’s what we should be doing,” he concluded.

10 Responses to "New Law Adds to Law Enforcement Responsibility"

  1. deleo has been for sale as long as he’s been working, if he can find a way to benefit financially & further himself he’s on it.

  2. To the replies so far, most of you have no idea the time and responsibility it takes for officers in training to make split second decisions. The Sheriff and Chief are correct in their thought assessment. And Danielle – you yourself even state there are “mental health counselors that don’t know how to deal with people with autism,” and your expecting our law enforcement to handle the burden when that is not their profession?

    Let me remind everyone, one instance does not make everyone in the law enforcement field incompetent. One officer made a wrong decision. I agree, this is feel good legislation, period. Its putting a bandage on an open wound. Let’s get the right solution with the right response with the right people. Or are we, and our state legislators, looking for an easy escape goat to say they’ve done something. Go back to your drawing board. This is not the answer. Our men and women wearing the badge have enough already on their plate.

    1. The real issue is WHY the legislature passed the mandatory training requirement. In response to a tragic incident? Maybe. To prevent it from happening again? Maybe. Because of their concern for the safety of autistic citizens? Maybe? There are various reasons given by the legislature for taking their extraordinary act of mandating such a specific LE training curriculum, all of them high sounding.
      But there are training providers who will benefit greatly from this legislation. An investigation into those private and public training providers, and their support of key legislators who supported the legislation should be undertaken.
      Question: Was the law passed to address a very real, pressing law enforcement training deficiency, or was it passed to line the pockets of training providers?

  3. Sheriff McNeal and Chief DeLeo, 40hrs does seem like a lot just to keep officers from killing patients.

    I would think that 10-20hrs or so of de-escalation training and department policies that mandate calling in on-duty, dedicated mental health personnel when mental health impairment is suspected would work far better for protecting the public.

    It would make sense for these counselors to be part of EMS. Since medical care and transport are not anticipated, costs can be minimized and further agitation prevented, by these mental health units arriving in unmarked or lightly marked cars and Wearing plain clothes or informal medical uniforms.

    The point is to calm the people down so they think more rationally.

  4. This law is needed it’s not 4 hours it’s 40 hours and they need it LEO’S in our schools are putting autistic children in handcuffs and they don’t know how to handle situations like an autistic child having a meltdown. I agree with the law because I AM a parent of a moderately Autistic child. And with the LEO’S being in our schools they need training Deleo needs to stop and think and so does walt. And not many Mental health counselors know how to deal with people with autism

  5. Never saw the problem addressed so clearly. The Chief is right. Four hours of training won’t help assess someone’s health issues and the presence of a LE uniform could make things worse. If not 24/7 mental health workers assisting why not those who rotate On Call with extra $$’s for their trouble?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.