MCSO deputies meet with people on the Autism spectrum as part of awareness training

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spent the morning of Mar. 10 doing Autism awareness training.

During the training, people with MCSO met with several people on the spectrum, and the goal is for them to better understand one another, and to safely de-escalate situations.

"It's awesome, and it's nice to talk to all the officers, learn more," said a woman named Genevieve, who took part in the program.

The men and women who visited MCSO with the First Place Transition Academy all have Autism. For them, interacting with law enforcement can be nerve-wracking.

"I was feeling anxious about being around all the offices, because they're intimidating," said Genevieve.

The goal for the program, however, is to make them more at ease.

"Getting to see everybody, see the horse, the helicopter was kind of an eye-opener," said Genevieve.

"This is critically important for law enforcement, residents," said Brad Heron-Valenzuela, Director of Education and Training for First Place Transition Academy. "This is an opportunity for them to ask questions, go through these interactive scenarios, so they're more prepared when they're out in the community and have interactions with law enforcement."

Those participating got some hands-on training. They met MCSO's horses, saw the helicopter and unmarked cars. They even ran through a practice traffic stop.

"So they feel engaged with us, and the other part is if they are in a situation that feels traumatic they manage their emotions, and we can manage for their needs so ee can have a successful outcome," said Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone.

Through this, Sheriff Penzone said they also want to learn to better serve those on the Autism spectrum.

"We just want to be more versed [on] how to interact, serve their needs, de-escalate, and make sure those on the spectrum understand how law enforcement works," said Sheriff Penzone.