Norwood police want a better system for helping people with autism
When Arnaldo Rios sat down in the middle of a Miami street with a flashing metal object in his hand, police didn't recognize it as a toy car. They didn't recognize the man attempting to talk Rios down as a caretaker. And when Rios repeatedly ignored commands to lie down and put his hands up, Officer Jonathan Aledda fired three shots in his direction. Rios wasn't holding a gun, and he wasn't in a position to hurt himself or others. He was autistic, and the July 18, 2016 shooting -- which missed Rios but hit his therapist, Charles Kinsey, in the leg -- traumatized him so badly he stopped eating and sleeping in the immediate aftermath. Although not all interactions between police and autistic civilians end in bloodshed, many do become unnecessarily fraught due to police misunderstandings of an autistic person's behavior. Norwood officers hope to make such interactions easier, safer and less stressful for all involved through the department's Norwood Identified Citizens Encounters -- or N.I.C.E. -- program. N.I.C.E. invites the families of severely autistic people as well as those with dementia or other severe communicative disabilities to fill out a questionnaire that helps police interact with them safely, should that person ever become the subject of a call. "We want to make sure that any encounter we have with anyone has a very safe end result," Police Chief William Kramer said. "Information is power, and the idea is we would have information before we would get a call on a person. Then, when we come into contact with them, we know not to use sirens around them or they don't like loud noises." The N.I.C.E. questionnaire asks the person filling it out to provide information about their loved one such as special interests, known triggers and effective strategies for guiding them through stressful situations. Kelley Krebs, whose 7-year-old daughter has autism, said she was grateful to see police in her city working to help families like her own. "There are so many safety precautions that parents and caregivers automatically and naturally have to do and provide, so seeing your community wanting to help you and be a part of it was overwhelming," Krebs said. "We were very grateful."