SAN MATEO – April is Autism Awareness Month, and the San Mateo Police Department is using it as an occasion to remind the community of its Project Guardian program, which provides police with information and tools about vulnerable residents to help The department interacts with understanding and care officers in response to a crisis or other encounter.
Project Guardian is a free, confidential program that allows carers, family members and others involved in the life of a person with autism or any other physical, mental or developmental condition to enter their confidential information into a police database to provide officers with More information about the person who they may have access to in the field.
“We know some people in our community may be wandering around, fearing the police, or responding differently when contacted by public safety personnel,” said a statement released by the department this month. Confidential information, the availability of information will help officers find vulnerable individuals more quickly, or prevent undue stress and aggravated responses by alerting response officers that they are about to encounter a person with a condition that could affect our response.”
Police across California are grappling with how to deal with people in crisis due to their conditions, employing mobile units designed to deal with mental health rather than emphasizing a law enforcement response that sometimes ends in deadly force.
A 2015 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit organization that provides support to people with serious mental illness, found that people with untreated mental illness were more 16 times more likely to be killed than the general population.
However, people with disabilities or dementia may also behave in erratic and anti-normal ways, which may also increase their vulnerability to the police.
Perhaps the most tragic example of this occurred in Maryland in 2013, when Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome, died of asphyxiation after being forcibly handcuffed. Saylor had just finished Zero Black Thirty and was waiting for his caretaker to pick him up in his car when he turned and returned to his seat in the theater, unticketed, hoping to see the film again.
Sheriff’s deputies from off-duty Frederick County forcibly interrupted him from his seat, resulting in his death. In 2018, Saylor’s family settled with the state of Maryland for $1.9 million.
Police Officer Austin Hopp of Loveland, Colorado, violently arrested a 73-year-old woman with dementia in 2020 after she left the store with $14 worth of merchandise without paying. She was violently arrested. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and the woman’s family received a $3 million settlement from the city.
In the San Francisco Bay Area in 2021, an autistic assault suspect in Vacaville was thrown on the sidewalk and punched in the face while trying to flee from a police officer.
“You’re going to get hurt,” the officer said in a conversation captured by a nearby Ring camera. “Don’t make me hurt you any more.”
Vacaville Police Chief Ian Schmutzler has publicly apologized to the young man, his family and the community. The family also settled with the city of Vacaville for $140,000.
Schmutzler also said his department will expand its Puzzle Project, a database of information on residents with special needs, similar to San Mateo’s Project Guardian.
San Mateo Police Department spokeswoman Sergeant Alison Gilmore said similar vulnerable citizen database programs exist in other police departments, but many focus only on one part of the community, such as seniors or only those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. .
Her department wants to create an all-encompassing database for anyone who might benefit from police, who can learn everything they can about someone they might come into contact with who might not be in compliance.
“After looking at these models, we decided, in fact, to create a registry that would benefit anyone who might have a condition, feeling, or disability that might put them at odds with law enforcement The interactions are not typical interactions,” Gilmore said.
The Guardian project was launched at the impetus of resident Gloria Brown, whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease and encountered San Mateo police officers when he was in crisis. Brown has said she wants the police department to know that her husband has cognitive issues so it might show. Gilmore said she worked closely with Commissioner Ed Barberini to develop ways for the department to best serve vulnerable populations.
The program is voluntary and collects information about a person such as their contact information, medical history and a good, usable photo for identification, but also in case they go missing.
Gilmore said she has a close family member with dementia and has experienced first-hand the panic and fear that can go through a loved one’s mind when they realize someone in their life is gone and unaccounted for.
Authorities are stepping up their game when it comes to finding missing seniors, such as the California Highway Patrol’s Silver Alert program, but they may not be serving well in the first few minutes or hours when loved ones realize someone is missing, Available photos of the person, she said. Project Guardian collects these photos, which police and the media can use to help locate them safely.
“We wanted to raise awareness about Project Guardian,” Gilmore said. “We’ll keep doing this over the years to raise awareness of it so that more and more people who have loved ones, have family members, have friends who will benefit from this program, join this program.”
In addition to this project, the San Mateo Police Department has received training on autism and mental illness and is participating in the San Mateo County Community Health and Crisis Response Pilot Project, which dispatches psychiatrists to police departments across the county. Health Clinician.
“Project Guardian is just another step that Commissioner Ed Barberini is taking to ensure we are doing our best and continually improving how we help those who need us most,” Gilmore said.
To learn more about Project Guardian or to register a loved one, visit https://www.cityofsanmateo.org/4657/Project-Guardian.