HOUSTON - The police shooting of an autistic teen in Utah is making national headlines just as the Harris County Sheriff’s Office announces its newest program, “Project Guardian,” aimed at helping to de-escalate incidents between law enforcement and autistic people.
The free program is aimed at keeping your loved ones with autism safe if they ever encounter law enforcement. “Project Guardian” gives deputies a heads up that they are dealing with someone on the autism spectrum.
Families can sign their loved ones up online, giving basic details about the person with autism so that if a deputy ever responds to their home, he’ll have access to that information before arriving.
“Put their name, date of birth, de-escalation techniques, conversations that have worked in the past to try to de-escalate the individual, and a picture as well,” said Sgt. Jose Gomez, who is in charge of the new Harris County Sheriff’s Office program.
“Autism is definitely very prevalent in our community,” said Richard Cheplick whose 16-year-old son Parker is on the autism spectrum.
He says they plan on being one of the first families to sign up for “Project Guardian.”
“Kids have different levels of—we call them—meltdowns,” said Cheplick. “Some of them have very unique mannerisms that would definitely be strange for a police officer to deal with if they’re not experienced dealing with it…. Some kids might have meltdowns where they throw stuff. They get violent. Other kids may just cry, and other kids may run away.”
Gomez says Project Guardian is aimed at helping deputies know how to respond to each person appropriately by knowing better where that person falls on the broad autism spectrum.
Once families sign up for the program, the sheriff’s office will issue them a “Project Guardian” sticker to place on their front door or window, allowing law enforcement to know before entering the house that someone with autism is at the residence.
“I think it is a fantastic opportunity,” said Billie Jean Harris who has three grandchildren with autism and plans to sign them up. “Some children with autism are kept at home and not exposed to the public, and therefore they don’t understand that police are there to help us.”
Project Guardian is live now for any Harris County residents who’d like to sign up for it here: www.harriscountycit.org/project-guardian/