Norwood police officer praised for his response to a driver with autism

"No arrest, no citation, just a chat with mom."

When a Norwood police officer attempted to stop a vehicle last week, it kept going, and the officer continued to pursue the driver.

But the incident didn’t end with an arrest, or even a citation.

That’s because Officer Brett Baker recognized that after the driver pulled into a driveway and got out, they showed some signs of autism.

Norwood Chief William Brooks decided to share what happened during the incident on Twitter, noting that perhaps the public may not be aware that officers undergo this type of training. It comes up as part of a mental health and first aid training that officers take part in once every two to three years, he said.

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“The training goes into what to look for, ways to spot how someone might react,” he told Boston.com in a phone interview. “For example, if a person becomes emotional while an officer is on scene for an incident, [the officer] may touch that person’s arm. While the gesture is meant to comfort, it might not be OK for someone with autism.”

In this particular incident, which happened around 2:45 p.m. last Tuesday, Brooks said the driver was going the speed limit but kept going with the cruiser behind it, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

When the driver made it to their house and got out, Baker noted the potential signs of autism and began speaking with the driver in a “non-threatening way,” Brooks said. The officer had been attempting the stop for a minor traffic violation.

“[Officer Baker] immediately understood what he was doing,” Brooks said, noting that the driver’s mother came out of the house and all simply talked about what had happened.

It’s something that parents with children with autism are worried about, Brooks said, in talking with them about their children. They’re concerned, he said, of how their child may react if they see a police officer.

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Brooks said he wants parents to understand that while all situations are different, autism training is “widespread” among police.

Training is one of the ways police have been working to provide service to people with different abilities. The Norfolk County Sheriff’s Department distributed special seat belt covers to police departments throughout the county, including Norwood, to give to residents who have a child with autism. The covers read, “I have autism. I may resist help.”

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