Prosecutor's Program Focuses on Those With Special Needs

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FLEMINGTON, NJ – The county prosecutor is beginning a new program to assist police officers responding to incidents involving special needs individuals, including those with autism.

“On a daily basis, police officers and other first responders have encounters with individuals with various developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorder and other mental health issues for various emergency and non-emergency reasons,” said Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III in a press release today. “Just as the reasons for each response differ, so do the individuals they encounter. Too often we read about unfortunate outcomes between first responders and special needs individuals arising from a lack of information available to the first responders.”

To address the issue, Kearns and his office have developed the S.T.a.R. Program – Special Training and Registration. It will provide critical information about an individual to police that could be of assistance in the event of an emergency or other encounter. The program will allow parents and legal guardians – on a voluntary basis – to provide information to law enforcement that they believe is important to the well-being of their loved ones, wards or clients.

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Information that can be provided can include dislikes, fears, whether they are verbal or non-verbal, violent tendencies, or any other information that could be helpful to the first responders. Other information such as nearby terrain hazards can assist in the event someone wanders away from home. 

The information provided will be loaded into a database at the county's Communications Dispatch Center, which operates the county’s emergency 911 system. There, trained dispatchers will be able to cross reference names and addresses with the database and instantly provide details to first responders to assist them with the situation and help keep the individual safe.

First responders including state, county, and local police; firefighters; EMS personnel; emergency management personnel; dispatchers; and educators from several Hunterdon school districts will be receiving mandatory training on a number of issues related to autism and developmental disabilities. The training will also cover safety, with a special emphasis on wandering and elopement. The training will be hosted by Kearns’ office in conjunction with Hunterdon Medical Center.

Hunterdon residents can register for the program by downloading a form from the prosecutor’s website. The form will be available after May 13.

For more information, call the Prosecutor’s Office at 908-788-1129.

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