SALT LAKE CITY — In early September, something Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall described as a tragedy occurred.
A 13-year-old boy with autism, Linden Cameron, was shot by police.
“That turned our attention in a bigger way, again, to what can we do better to train our officers to deal with unique situations,” Mendenhall said.
On Thursday, she and the Salt Lake City Police Department came together to announce that all first responders will now take certified sensory inclusive training. The training will be provided by KultureCity, a nonprofit organization that provides training to organizations around the country on how to handle interactions with those with invisible disabilities and sensory needs.
The Salt Lake City Fire Department and 911 dispatchers will also receive the training.
“We are at the beginning of an evolution in the way our city addresses public safety,” Mendenhall said. “And through this work, we will live in a Salt Lake City that is more safe for its residents and for the officers who serve to protect us.”
On Sept. 4, Linden’s mother, Golda Barton, called 911 asking for a crisis-intervention officer. Linden was having a mental breakdown and Barton was seeking help getting him to the hospital. Bodycam video shows Barton explaining to officers her son is afraid of the police and would likely try to run.
He did — and the officers yelled and chased after the boy before 11 shots were fired by one officer.
Linden survived the shooting, but the incident garnered national attention and prompted many to wonder why police would use deadly force against a juvenile with Asperger’s syndrome.
Thursday’s announcement, in a way, was the department’s response to those questions.
KultureCity’s training will focus on “instilling understanding, acceptance, and empathy in the City’s first responders toward those who have sensory needs,” a police news release says.
The Salt Lake police department also hopes its Autism Safe Registry can help avoid future tragic incidents. The registry is a voluntary program where citizens can provide first responders information about people’s diagnoses, the best way to communicate with them, and any medications — any relevant information that could help police, 911 dispatchers, or other first responders. When officers respond to a call at the address, the information will then come up on their screen.
“It is my sincere hope that SLCPD is known for being the best trained and well-equipped department to respond with empathy, compassion and the necessary skills — particularly when interacting with those who are the most vulnerable,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. “We want to help in an inclusive way and look forward to working with KultureCity.”
Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles and his wife Renae sit on the board of KultureCity and attended Thursday’s announcement. The couple has pushed for additional training for officers since the shooting in September. The Ingles’ son Jacob is on the autism spectrum.
“As members of this community and advocates for autism awareness, it’s important to my wife and I that our police department and first responders are equipped with this important training for their day-to-day interactions with people who have sensory needs or invisible disabilities,” Ingles said.
“One in 6 people have sensory needs or invisible disabilities,” Ingles continued. “When you think about the number of people officers and first responders encounter every day, it illustrates how important training like this is to creating positive and productive interactions. We’re thrilled SLCPD has committed to making this a part of their ongoing training.”
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Salt Lake police to receive sensory inclusive training in wake of September shooting /p>