Breckenridge Texan

Sheriff’s Office introduces Take Me Home program to assist citizens with special needs

Sheriff’s Office introduces Take Me Home program to assist citizens with special needs
December 12
08:47 2018

Law enforcement agencies in Stephens County and Breckenridge have recently taken actions to ensure the safety of local citizens with autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities.

The local awareness was brought about by an incident earlier this year, when officers with the Graham Police Department used a stun gun or Taser on a man they didn’t realize had autism. The Graham incident alerted law enforcement in Stephens County to the idea that training and other systems could be implemented to help prevent such an occurrence in the future.

Take Me Home program

Last week, Stephens County Chief Deputy Kevin Roach introduced the Take Me Home program he developed after attending a workshop sponsored by the Young County Sheriff’s Office for area law enforcement.

The program is a photo-based information system designed to assist first responders during contacts with members of the community who have disabilities such as autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome or any other developmental disabilities. Take Me Home was created mainly to help officers who encounter a person who cannot communicate where they live or other information.

“We’re trying to be proactive and get ahead of situations,” Roach said.

Basically, family members or caretakers of anyone with an impairment can fill out a form that law enforcement can keep on file as a reference, providing the officers with emergency contact information, physical descriptions, known routines and special needs of the enrolled individual. Parents or other caretakers can fill out the form for their children of any age, or adult children or grandchildren can fill out the form for their parents or grandparents who are suffering from some form of dementia or other impairment.

Roach created the local program on his own, modeling it after a similar program in San Diego and using information from the National Autism Association. After the Young County workshop, he worked with local community members to develop the program.

“Kevin did a great job of soliciting input from parents of people with some of these issues and creating this form,” Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt said.

Once a form is on file, the dispatchers at the Law Enforcement Center will be able to look up a person by name or photo and let the officer know the specific information about the person.

“We’re trying to understand and take an extra second,” Roach said. “We would rather identify them immediately. The intention of the program is not to single out anyone but to help us keep them safe.”

The program is voluntary. No one in the community will be required to participate, and those who do sign up will be able to choose what information they share with the law enforcement agencies.

Roach said many of the local officers already know most of the people in the community with special needs but that the Take Me Home program can put more information in the hands of the officers. “Our community is small enough that all of our officers will likely know the person on sight, but there are always new people coming in,” he said.

The Stephens County Sheriff’s Office is hosting the program, but it is available to the Breckenridge Police Department, as well. “It’s for both city and county residents, not just those in the county,” Roach said.

In addition to helping law enforcement when they encounter a person with a mental impairment, the program also can be used in situations when a person is missing. The information that can be shared via the form includes places that the person likes to go and things they enjoy doing.

The forms also include information such as medical conditions, methods of communication, sensory/medical/dietary issues and requirements, likes/dislikes, and more. The forms are available at the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office, and Roach said they will also be available on the SCSO’s Facebook page and webpage.

Once the forms are submitted to the Sheriff’s Office, they will be accessible only by law enforcement personnel, he said.

Click the links below to download the Take Me Home form in English and/or Spanish. Then, fill it out and return it to the Sheriff’s Office at 210 E. Dyer St.

TakeMeHomeForm-English

LLevame a casa-TakeMeHomeForm-Spanish

For more information about the Take Me Home program, call 254-559-2481 to speak with Roach or Holt.

Police training

Nancy Elliot, standing, and Dean Pye, both with the Betty Hardwick Center in Abilene, presented a program for the Breckenridge Police Department on encountering people with mental health issues or intellectual developmental disabilities. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

In addition to being able to use the Take Me Home program, the Breckenridge Police Department also has had recent training to help them when encountering a person with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDDs) or mental health issues. Betty Elliot, a program administrator at the Betty Hardwick Center in Abilene, and Dean Pye, an IDD crisis intervention specialist at the center, presented the program.

“We were asked by the Breckenridge Police Department to come up and give a presentation on encountering people with mental health issues and encountering people with intellectual development disabilities, either in the community or in crisis and what’s the best way to respond and what are some of the options that they have if they encounter those folks,” Elliot said.

Sometimes, police officers’ position of authority can be intimidating for people intellectual developmental disabilities, she said.

“But, I think that culture is changing,” Elliot said. “I think police departments are getting a lot more training in mental health and IDD folks and learning the best ways to approach those people and not necessarily looking at it as ‘They’ve done something wrong,’ but ‘How can we help you fix what’s going on?’ … Because it’s not a criminal call, it’s not a criminal case. A crime isn’t being committed; it’s a mental health issue.”

During the training, the Breckenridge officers were given some do’s and don’ts, as well as information on how to deescalate a situation before it turns into a tragedy.

The program provided the officers with information about behaviors that are often common with people who have some type of IDD. For example, some people with IDDs treat the concept of “personal space” differently than others. “There’s no personal space with some people with IDDs,” said BPD Lt. Bacel Cantrell in discussing the training they received. “They want to be right on top of you, talking, while we as police officers, we’re taught and trained that you don’t let someone in that space.”

Some problems can occur when the police are dealing with someone who has an IDD because the officers are trying to process a lot of information very quickly, Cantrell said. The training helped those in attendance to take a different approach.

“It’s just slowing down a little bit and trying to communicate and see what’s really going on,” he said. “We as police officers, sometimes the first thing we want to think when someone is not listening is that they don’t want to listen because they’re doing something wrong. So, this gives us a different way of thinking. Maybe they’re listening, it’s just taking them time to process what’s going on.”

Although the BPD training took place a few months before the Sheriff’s Office created the Take Me Home program, Elliot and Pye described an ideal system that is similar to the new program.

“Increasing the communication among all of the different systems that are working with a person is really, really helpful,” Pye said. “Having historical knowledge of them, of the things they like, things that are important to them, if they take medications, what are those medications and are they not taking them, is really helpful, certainly for police or anyone who’s been called out. Knowing a person’s history and knowing how to communicate is important, and knowing things that might help deescalate the situation before it even rises to the point something bad happens.”

Cantrell said the training was instrumental in helping the BPD officers learn to better communicate in all types of situations and to slow down and see what the issues may be. “We’re just trying to develop something to get everyone to communicate so that everyone is on the same page,” he said.

 

Story by Carla McKeown and Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Stephens County Chief Deputy Kevin Roach, left, and Sheriff Will Holt, recently introduced the Take Me Home program, which helps local law enforcement identify and better communicate with citizens who have special needs, including autism, dementia, Down syndrome and others. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 

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