RICHMOND (WRIC)—A bill to protect people with autism from potentially dangerous encounters with police is making its way through the Virginia General Assembly.
"JP's Law" would allow people with autism or an intellectual disability to have their condition noted on their driver's license.
"When my officer at 2 o'clock in the morning gets the call for the suspicious individual standing on the side of the road flapping his arms and mumbling to himself … you could see how that could be a recipe for disaster," said Sergeant Tim Sutton of the Hanover County Sheriff's Office.
Sutton says many Hanover County officers are trained to handle people with autism, and that this training came in handy when searching for Robbie Wood, a boy with autism who went missing in 2011 after wandering off by himself. But in many cases, officers don't know that the person they're dealing with may have autism, which can lead to dangerous situations.
"Officers are Tasering and hurting people with autism, and the officers are getting hurt themselves," Sutton said.
Pam Mines, the mother of 9-year-old JP, who has autism, came up with the idea for the law.
"He's only 9, but he will drive one day," Mines said. "Before he drives, we want people to be able to look on the ID and see that he has autism."
Mines says she wants to avoid situations in which officers don't know how to deal with someone with autism, situations like in 2009, when a bus driver and assistant beat a child with autism in Bedford County.
"We don't need to detain, we don't need to arrest, we don't need to make the situation worse," Mines said. "So, we're trying to protect our children from things that may happen that could very well be avoided."
The bill was approved by the Transportation Committee and now heads to the Senate floor.
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