The Alton Police Department launched a new initiative to better serve the community and deescalate potential negative interactions between police officers and those diagnosed with a disability.
The police department announced their new Safety Sticker Program last week, where residents who have a diagnosed medical condition or a special need can pick up a safety sticker that should be placed on their vehicles to alert officers of their condition.
“Our goal is to create positive interactions between our officers and the community we serve,” Alton police Chief Jonathan B. Flores said. “We don’t want one officer to mistake a medical condition or a special need for intoxication or noncompliance. With this program we can decrease any potential negative interactions and show of force that may arise from that kind of issue.”
The sticker program is through a partnership between the police department and the local autism awareness organization, Bebo’s Angels, which provides quarterly training with Alton police officers on how to interact with autistic individuals, Flores said.
Four different stickers are available to be picked up, which alerts emergency responders that an occupant in the vehicle may have either: autism or special needs, diabetes, Alzheimer’s or dementia or deafness. The sticker alerts first responders that the individuals may not respond to verbal commands.
Though there hasn’t been a previous incident where Alton police officers had a negative experience responding to someone with a special need, Flores said this sticker will better serve the community in the long run.
“Officers won’t let their guard down when they see this sticker on a vehicle they have stopped but it will provide for them a heightened sense of awareness of an individual in that vehicle may have a special need or condition that needs attention,” Flores said. “They will then approach the situation with caution.”
Flores said the decision to implement the sticker program came after the initiative originated in Bexar County by County Sheriff Javier Salazar. The county, which mostly covers San Antonio, started distributing the stickers earlier this week.
“We saw a tremendous value in it and we decided to bring this out to the community of Alton. We’re the first city in the Valley implementing this,” Flores said.
To receive a sticker, residents must go to the Alton Police Department located at 509 S. Alton Blvd. and provide an I.D. and a proof of diagnosis, which can include a doctor’s note or medical records, Flores said.
Once applicants have registered for the program, the information will be stored in the department’s computer-aided dispatch system so that the information can be available for officers if they need to respond to a call in the applicant’s home.
With this program, Flores said that his officers will use it as an added tool for them to utilize as it is not a substitute for training.
“Our officers are trained on how to handle situations where they’re responding to individuals who have some kind of special need, diagnosis and intoxicated where they learn to spot the difference to better handle the situation,” Flores explained. “Our 27 employees go through this training quarterly and logged in a combined 2,000 hours of training last year.”