By Briana Vannozzi
Too often, first responders say they’re called on scene, given split seconds to make a judgement about someone, only to find that what seemed like threatening behavior was unintentional.
“Well I’m autistic. Most people might not know that because I seem like a normal guy, but there are kids out there who aren’t like me. You know we’re all different,” said autism advocate Colton Hines.
People whom, unlike 18-year-old Hines, can’t communicate and act out erratically. So law enforcement officers are unveiling the Monmouth County Special Needs Registry. It’s the first countywide registry in New Jersey and one of just five in the nation.
“It’s essentially a confidential database that contains profiles with registrants with special needs, a registry open to any Monmouth County citizen who might be affected in some way by a disability,” said Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni.
“It is completely voluntary, it is entirely up to the individual or family member if they want to be placed on the registry. Secondly, it’s free of charge there’s no charge involved at all for the registry, it’s comprehensive, not limited to any specific types of special need. It’s open to a very broad range,” said Detective Shawn Murphy of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
Members are asked to put in personal identifiers, emergency contacts, descriptions and characteristics of the special need, along with recent photos in the event a search is needed for that person.
When a 911 call comes in, the registrant’s information is automatically synced with the dispatcher’s database and the computer in the first responder’s vehicle, giving them all that information, right at their fingertips.
“The information contained in it is strictly confidential. It will only be provided to first responders in times of emergency,” Murphy said.
“A lot of it has to do with situational awareness. If you know what you’re walking into before you go there, you’re going to have a better outcome. So if you know that someone is in that house with special needs, you’re going to start thinking that way before you even get there,” said Fran Hines, special needs trainer for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
Members are also given a special decal to display on their car or home window to give an extra alert before a first responder approaches.
“Monmouth County has roughly 630,000 citizens. What people don’t realize is, about 10 percent of them are characterized as special needs citizens, so that’s 60,000,” Gramiccioni said.
“Every single one of those recruits who came through the Monmouth County Policy Academy in the last four years have been educated on how to deal with persons with special needs and autism,” said Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.
“I think if they have that information knowing they’re autistic or another kind of special needs and have it at their disposal it will help them to deal with it because there’s so many cops that don’t know this and they think that they’re on something,” Colton Hines said.
The website and registry is active and open to residents, students and employees of the county.