Secretary Hooks, Department of Public Safety Enhance Autism Response Training for Law Enforcement, First Responders DPS hosts instructional training session at Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh


Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks and his team today hosted the inaugural Helping Enhance Autism Response Training (HEART) class for law enforcement officers and other first responders in Raleigh to learn best practices for successfully interacting with the growing number of people on the autism spectrum. Due to the global pandemic, a small number of attendees were present in-person (socially distanced) while others attended virtually.

Hooks welcomed leaders from state and local law enforcement and other first responder agencies to the half-day event held in the North Carolina National Guard Joint Force Headquarters auditorium. The training was led by national expert and author Dennis Debbaudt, who has 25 years of experience conducting training for law enforcement. Debbaudt has presented to the Department of Homeland Security, New York City Police Department, Illinois Attorney General, Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association, and many more. 

“We know this training is especially valuable because an increasing number of individuals are diagnosed with autism,” said Hooks. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 54 children in this country are on the autism spectrum. Our goal for Helping Enhance Autism Response Training is to further the opportunity for safe contacts among law enforcement, first responders and individuals on the spectrum.”

“As the parent of a son with autism, I am excited to be part of this effort to bring autism safety training to our first responders and law enforcement professionals,” said Chief Deputy Secretary Casandra “San” Skinner Hoekstra, who is leading the HEART initiative for DPS. “The information presented during today’s training can literally save lives.”

Thursday’s training included topics such as common autism behaviors and characteristics and recognition tips, public safety issues, behavioral de-escalation techniques, interview techniques for victim-witness and suspect and more. 

Debbaudt stressed the training is important because the social, communication and behavioral issues associated with the disability present unique challenges during an emergency or other stressful situation.

“I’m thrilled to see that this training is a priority for law enforcement and first responders in North Carolina,” said Debbaudt. “It is essential that they are able to recognize common autistic behaviors and characteristics and know best practices to safely interact with an individual on the spectrum.”







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