Salt Lake City police officers shot a 13-year-old child with autism who was having a mental health episode nearly a dozen times in September. He lived, but his family members have said his ability to walk will likely be permanently impacted.
“I don’t feel good,” the child said after being shot. “Tell my mom I love her.”
In the wake of that shooting, Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles urged the Salt Lake City Police Department to get additional training for interactions with people with sensory needs. Ingles and his wife, Renae Ingles, who have a son with autism, are both on the board of KultureCity, an organization that leads trainings nationally about supporting those with sensory needs.
The Ingleses helped cover the cost of the trainings for first responders in Salt Lake City so the city didn’t have to pay, according to KultureCity COO Uma Srivastava.
The training, which includes a 35-minute video followed by a quiz, has now been completed by Salt Lake City police and firefighters. Salt Lake City is the first city to have all of its first responders get KultureCity’s Sensory Inclusive certification.
The program is supposed to give first responders a better understanding of the experiences of people with a range of sensory needs, according to Sean Culkin, a KultureCity board member who has autism. He said he hopes officers will treat every situation as one where a person might have an invisible disability and respond accordingly.
“Using alternate communication methods and being able to stop for a moment and reflect on situations can make a massive difference in dealing with a situation with someone who has an invisible disability,” said Culkin.
People with autism aren’t the only group who sometimes have difficulty responding to sensory input, according to KultureCity’s website. People with PTSD, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and others may also have sensory needs.
Even though the whole training takes less than an hour, city leaders say it is already improving police interactions with the community.
“I have never had an officer tell me that a specific training resulted in a particular outcome in such a bold way as I’ve already had officers tell me about KultureCity,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
She said police recently responded to a suicidal man with sensory needs. The officers had all just completed the KultureCity training and were able to put it to use by keeping siren lights away from the man and speaking in calming voices. Mendenhall said she saw the interaction on the police log and went to thank one of the officers for doing a good job. That officer credited KultureCity with teaching them how to safely resolve the situation.
Salt Lake City firefighters haven’t made the news for violent interactions with people with disabilities, but they received the training, too.
Chief Karl Lieb said firefighters are often the first responders on-scene during medical emergencies. He said the new training will help them understand the needs of patients better, especially if the patient is reacting in a way that firefighters are not accustomed to seeing.
KultureCity will follow up with Salt Lake City’s agencies each year to renew their training.