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Police working to respond better to cases involving autism, intellectual disabilities

The Cranston Police Department is creating a voluntary registry that will list the names of children with autism and intellectual disabilities. (WJAR)

The Cranston Police Department is creating a voluntary registry that will list the names of children with autism and intellectual disabilities.

The department said the goal is to help officers recognize signs of autism and improve interactions.

Cranston police said if they know someone with autism lives in a certain home they can change how they respond to that call. For instance, they may opt not to use flashing lights and sirens on a cruiser since that could be a sensory overload for people with autism.

“They may change their response from lights and sirens to maybe just lights,” said. Lt. Mark Freeborn. “Maybe the way they pull up the home in regards to how far the car is away from the house, the way they approach going into the house.”

It’s one of the reasons why the Cranston Police Department is compiling names and addresses of people with autism. It's a voluntary program: parents who want to participate can fill out a form on the police department's website.

“We never want an officer to go to a home or residence and have something happen that could be preventable,” Freeborn said.

It comes months after police body camera video in Arizona captured an officer holding a teenager with autism on the ground. The officer mistook the teen's repetitive motions for being under the influence of drugs.

Freeborn told NBC 10 News that he is thankful nothing like that has happened in Cranston.

“Fortunately, I think we're ahead of the curve on that in the fact that we didn't have to wait for an incident to happen,” Freeborn said.

Joanne Quinn has an adult son with autism and is the executive director of The Autism Project, an affiliate of Gateway Healthcare Inc.

Quinn commended the Cranston Police Department for launching the database.

“I'm a believer that the more information you have going into a situation, the better,” Quinn said. “And if the people who are there to keep you safe know the circumstances in your house and know what works and doesn't work for whatever person in your family, I think it's a great idea.”

Cranston police said only the department will have access to the database and at any time people can opt out of the program.

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