(The Center Square) – West Virginia legislation that requires some officers to receive training on how to interact with people with autism spectrum disorders was signed by Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 634 will require law enforcement and corrections officers to receive the training.
“Research has shown us that interactions with law enforcement can be more dangerous for those with autism spectrum disorders,” Justice said in a statement. “Many times, these officers without training come to opinions that can lead them to suspect these people because their behavior may be something they can’t pick up on. Now, our first responders will receive the proper training on how to recognize and interact with individuals with autism and other mental health conditions,”
Dr. Marc Ellison, the executive Director of Marshall University’s Autism Training Center, voiced his support for the legislation.
“Senate Bill 634 is a really significant step in helping police officers and the community in general understand autism better and hopefully will prevent some really poor outcomes,” Ellison said. “I’m aware of only two states that require autism-specific training for police officers. So once again, West Virginia, at least in the world of autism support, is kind of a pioneer in leading the way.”
Billy Wolfe, a spokesperson for the state's ACLU chapter, said the legislation is a good start, but said more needs to be done.
"We know people with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to police violence," Wolfe said. "Training in recognizing and appropriately interacting with these people is always good. However, we also know that more training is only a small part of the necessary changes. Ultimately, we need a radical rethinking of police and public safety where violence is always treated with scrutiny and where police are not expected to respond to people experiencing mental health crises."
The legislation is effective 90 days after passage. It passed the Senate 33-0 with one person absent and passed the House 99-1.