POAC’s Autism Shield program trains police | POAC’s Executive Director shares thoughts on the recent shooting of Charles Kinsey involving autistic man

July 21, 2016

Originally Posted by Gary Weitzen of POAC Autism Services on Facebook

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Cops shoot the caretaker of autistic man playing in the street with toy truck.

When Rinaldo, a 23-year-old autistic man carrying a toy truck wandered away from his group home, a worker there named Charles Kinsey, a 47-year-old black man, went to bring him back inside.

Police received a 911 call indicating a man was in the street with a gun threatening to kill himself. In a prepared statement, North Miami police spokeswoman Natalie Buissereth said “arriving officers attempted to negotiate with the two men on the scene, one of whom was later identified as suffering from autism… At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon.”

The video shows Mr. Kinsey laying on his back with his hands up in the air next to the young Rinaldo who is playing with his toy truck. Mr. Kinsey tells the police “All he has is a toy truck. A toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.” He pleads with officers to back down and with Rinaldo to calm down. “Rinaldo, please be still. Rinaldo, sit down. Rinaldo, lay on your stomach.”

Mr. Kinsey states “I was more worried about him than myself.” As Kinsey pleaded with the officers Rinaldo just continued to sit on the ground and play with his toy truck. It is still unclear why an officer fired on the 47-year-old Kinsey.

In addition to the racial tensions so prevalent between law enforcement and the black community, what goes unsaid is that incidents like this highlight how explosive a situation can get when cops already on edge are forced to confront someone with autism or a mental disability. Individuals with autism are seven times more likely to encounter a police officer than the general public. This case has been turned over to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

This case is so disturbing to me as a father of a 22-year-old man with autism and a certified law enforcement instructor. Let’s be very clear, very clear- I know first-hand hundreds of stories of police officers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to save and protect our children with autism and the people who care for them. The dedication of the tens of thousands of first responders I have trained over the years truly humbles me. The fact remains however, that additional training in autism recognition and response is needed by all law enforcement and first responders. This system is broken when the incident that occurred in this video is allowed to happen.

New Jersey is a leader in police training- already requiring on line training on developmental disabilities for first responders. In addition, POAC Autism Services is a pioneer in autism safety, and our Autism Shield Program has been credited with saving lives all over our state. POAC has reached out to the Police Chief Gary Eugene of the North Miami Police Department and offered our services to train their department through our Autism Shield Program.

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Gary Weitzen is the Executive Director of POAC Autism Services, which is the largest provider of free autism training and events in the state of New Jersey. Mr. Weitzen is a certified law enforcement instructor with the New Jersey Police Training Commission, member of the National Association of Search and Rescue, and serves as a Special State Officer on the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism. In addition to his duties at POAC, for the past fifteen years he has worked for an autism program as a teacher of life skills to adults with autism. Mr. Weitzen, has served as the New Jersey representative for Unlocking Autism, and Vice President of Princeton Autism Technology, and comes to POAC with 20 years of experience in the risk management field. The Weitzen family story was featured with the Doug Flutie family on the country’s first screening tool for early identification and intervention of autism, First Signs. He has appeared on virtually every major network and local news station as an expert on autism and has given presentations to tens of thousands of people across New Jersey. Mr. Weitzen’s son, Christopher has autism and he has been a passionate advocate of children and adults with autism for close to two decades.

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