Health and safety of our friends, family, and loved ones will always be priority number one. We do whatever we can to protect those around us, particularly those who are disabled, have medical conditions, or are otherwise vulnerable. SafeEncounter is a Community Safety Database designed to help Law Enforcement protect these more vulnerable members of the community in times of crisis. While each enrolled agency will set its own requirements for what makes someone eligible for SafeEncounter, there are several conditions that we had in mind while crafting the system. Today, let’s take a look at six of the conditions that guarantee eligibility and discuss how the SafeEncounter program will benefit each.
Autism is a neurological developmental disability that impacts nearly 6 million people in America alone. Roughly 2.2% of the population is Autistic, but resources designed to understand and protect those individuals are few and far between. SafeEncounter gives police another tool to assist autistic people during emergencies in a way that will de-escalate the situation and avoid as much distress as possible. For some, Autism is expressed in traits regarding speaking with others. These traits can minimize or completely eliminate the person’s ability to hold conversations, especially with strangers during a crisis. Even individuals who can typically communicate eloquently, traumatic events, stress, or other environmental factors can temporarily hinder verbal communication. As such, autistic people are great candidates for SafeEncounter because if they wander off, get lost, or have some type of panic/anxiety attack they may not be able to communicate with responding officers.
The SafeEncounter database will contain their profile to let officers know that the person is autistic, warn them of triggers or negative stimuli, and provide regulations when dealing with the situation at hand. Some of the most common notes for autistic dependents can include things like “avoid loud noises/turn off sirens, do not touch, unable to speak when panicked,” etc. Officers can look through these notes and come up with a game plan that will best help the individual.
Another condition that makes individuals eligible for SafeEncounter is Dementia. Dementia is a generalized term for diseases causing cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s, the most common type of Dementia. Odds are, you know of someone who has or had Dementia, likely a grandparent or elderly person. Dementia causes the brain to function less effectively, resulting in symptoms like memory loss, confusion, unsteadiness, wandering, etc. In fact, studies show that an estimated 6 in 10 people with Dementia will wander at least once. As you would imagine (or you may know from experience), wandering with the condition can be extremely scary. Once an individual wanders, they are often disorientated and will quickly get lost, even if the surroundings are not new to them. Getting lost can cause stress or anxiety, making the person start to panic and frantically look for something or someone they know. If a Dementia patient is found wandering by police, they may not be able to give officers any information about where they live, who they know, or who they are. It’s not uncommon for those with Alzheimer’s to forget the identity of loved ones or even themselves during bad episodes. If police cannot rely on the information given to them by the lost person, they could have many hoops to jump through to get them home safely.
SafeEncounter can aid in the identification of a person via pictures, mapping, and physical descriptions to help responding officers get the person home in a matter of minutes. Even if the Dementia patient is unable to recall anything about themselves, police can search the database to figure out who they are, where they live, and who can be contacted to pick them up. Encounters are much faster and less stressful for both the individual and their loved ones.
Down’s Syndrome (Down Syndrome) is an intellectual disability caused by an extra chromosome. In the US, about 6000 babies are born with Down Syndrome each year. The condition impacts cognitive function and development, alters the physical appearance of the person, and can cause or be found along with other medical conditions. Down’s Syndrome can impact how a child learns to communicate, most commonly affecting how quickly and well they take to verbal language. Some people with Down Syndrome will learn to carry conversations without much trouble, but others will rely much more heavily on non-verbal language like body language, expressions, sign, etc. As with Autism, problems communicating with officers can prolong a situation. Add to that the frequency in which people with Down’s Syndrome struggle with short-term memory and you’re truly looking at the perfect candidate for the SafeEncounter program[LC3] . For older people with Down Syndrome, Alzheimer’s is quite common. Down Syndrome is known to shorten a person’s lifespan, meaning conditions like Dementia can set in at younger ages. Depending on the severity of Down’s Syndrome traits/symptoms, a person can behave like a child their entire life while simultaneously going through physical changes seen in elderly adults such as memory loss, cognitive decline, mobility struggles, and more. Anyone with Down’s Syndrome is eligible for SafeEncounter and is highly encouraged to join their community’s program.
Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder
Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder (SSD) is a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others. Only around 1% of the population suffers from Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder, but it is one of the most serious mental illnesses currently known. SSD can negatively impact a person’s perception of reality, causing delusions, hallucinations, imagined voices, and more. Most commonly, Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder is diagnosed in the 20s-30s in both men and women. However, symptoms may be present throughout childhood but misdiagnosed as a behavioral problem or other disorder. It’s important to note that TV and films have generalized the disorder, providing incorrect information and showcasing those with the condition in a harmful light. SSD continues to be researched and professionals are working to change the stigma and improve understanding and diagnosis of the disease. For those who suffer from SSD, manic episodes can be common, causing near-instantaneous changes in mood and behavior, coupled with impulsive, dangerous, or frantic actions. People with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder can be confused during episodes, forgetting who they are, what they are doing, and where they are headed. Because the condition can make people so volatile, strict “rules” about handling each individual during an episode are key. For some, physical contact will make things worse. Some might be prone to violence. Others may panic because they cannot understand what is going on.
Those with SSD are good fits for SafeEncounter because their condition can endanger their own lives as well as the lives of law enforcement and others in the community. By providing responding officers with the information necessary to avoid escalating the situation, SafeEncounter profiles help to defuse a situation and offer the individual the care required to help them come down from their emotional high or delusional state.
Bipolar Disorder is another mental disorder that interferes with emotions to cause drastic shifts from extreme highs to extreme lows. As with most mental disorders, Bipolar Disorder presents differently in each individual. For some, the condition can be extremely well managed with medication with symptoms displaying rarely, but others struggle daily from disabling mood swings. In certain cases, individuals with Bipolar Disorder report confusion, trouble concentrating, and issues with memory. During these intense periods of emotion, thoughts can race, get jumbled, and become overwhelming. Many people have found themselves so emotional they are figuratively unable to speak, but this can truly be the case for those with Bipolar Disorder. As we’ve seen with other conditions, confusion, memory problems, and being overwhelmed can prevent a person from communicating or reacting rationally while distressed.
Those with Bipolar Disorder are eligible for SafeEncounter to add a layer of knowledge and protection should they find themselves lost, confused, or in an emergency situation. Police can search for the person’s profile, identify their condition, and respond accordingly to help them return to their loved ones.
Lastly, let’s discuss Dissociative Disorders. There are a wide variety of disorders that fall within this group – the most well-known by the public being Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID. Dissociation is a break in how the mind handles information. It’s a sense of being disconnected from oneself or the world around them. In the case of DID, a person will have two or more completely separate personalities that can have their own opinions, names, history, voice, and preferences. DID and other dissociative disorders are still widely underdiagnosed and misunderstood, often portrayed incorrectly in films and television. Some cases of the disorders can be relatively subtle, but all cases impact a person’s life. Any time someone dissociates, they lose touch with reality and can be extremely confused, misremember events, forget how to do things, and struggle to understand and reply to questions.
If a person is actively dissociating when found by police, SafeEncounter can provide all the information the person cannot. Using known information like height, eye color, sex, etc., officers can search the database to identify the person, learn about their condition, and take steps to keep the person safe.
The six conditions discussed here are not the only ones that make someone eligible for SafeEncounter. As stated in the beginning of this article, each participating agency and district can create its own eligibility requirements. However, for any severe cognitive issue like the ones mentioned, individuals will always be eligible for the program. To learn more about SafeEncounter and how it can help vulnerable individuals, please visit www.SafeEncounter.org. For any questions or to sign up, please contact the team.