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Local organization partners with police for traffic stop training for those on autism spectrum

Adenike Akinniyi hands the officer her driver's license. She cares for folks with developmental disabilities, including a few who are her passengers.

The caregiver has pulled her red van into a lane at Security Mall, where a Baltimore County police officer pulls up from behind.

“Take your time,” said Officer Cooper, as Akinniyi frantically searched for her registration and insurance cards.

Thousands of traffic stops occur daily and for those on the autism spectrum, the experience can be especially nerve racking. Pathfinders (PFA), a local organization serving people with autism, held a mock training Thursday on what to do if stopped.

“Part of what we want to encourage is positive interaction,” said Shelly McLaughlin, a program director at PFA. “We don't want their only interaction with law enforcement to be on their worst day or when they're in crisis. This helps reinforce that the police are the people that will be there to help them.”

The training also includes a tip sheet. It instructs officers to speak slowly, reduce noise and lights, if possible. Sgt Mike Toni said all sworn officers learn those tips during in-service police training. He had an additional one to offer.

“A lot of times officers perceive things about the people that they encounter and it heightens our sense of danger, where there may not be one,” said Toni. “Anybody that's on the autism spectrum or has any type of disability, it's very important to lead with that. It will bring the nerves down. And a lot of times it'll open up a casual conversation.”

Before taking off, Akinniyi, the caregiver, thanked the team for the experience.

“It’s great exposure,” she said.

Wambui Kamau is a General Assignment Reporter for WYPR. @WkThee
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