HOUSTON – The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has launched a new program with the goal of improving the department’s interaction with people with autism.
The Project Guardian program will help engage families with loved ones with autism and provide deputies with information about the person with autism, including whether they may have any special needs deputies should know about when encountering them during a call of service.
“We continuously work with the community to ensure we are doing all we can to best serve our residents with compassion and understanding,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. “Project Guardian engages the community, builds positive relationships, and embraces public safety as a shared responsibility. It’s an example of what we can accomplish together.”
Officials said they understand that interactions with law enforcement can be stressful for a person with autism and can cause that person to become frightened and act out.
Families of those with autism are asked to participate in the program by submitting basic information to create a profile for them, including a recent photo and “any individual characteristics attributed to autism that deputies should take into consideration during their interaction with them.”
The sheriff’s office said is it committed to “diverting individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis away from the criminal justice system and toward more appropriate care, resources, and services.”
Harris County deputies are required to complete a 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training course on how to professionally handle scenarios involving mental health crises and how to properly de-escalate the situation.