Waterford and Groton Police Departments are working with Southern Connecticut State University to host a mock traffic stop event for drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
For the last two years, SCSU’s police department has been working with the Center of Excellence on Autism Spectrum Disorders. They created a video that shows a mock traffic stop and walks drivers through how to use the blue envelope, a Connecticut program designed to bridge communication between officers and drivers with ASD.
In addition to the video, the university has hosted two mock traffic stop events for drivers and officers.
“To kind of bridge these communities - the law enforcement community and the autism community and create those shared understandings and foster positive experiences,” said Dr. Kari Sassu, who works with the Center of Excellence on ASD at SCSU. “To be able to anticipate and practice and become familiar with the steps or the elements of a routine traffic stop."
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Officers from Waterford and Groton police departments have attended the training and wanted to bring the program to eastern Connecticut.
“We wanted people in the eastern side of the state to have the same opportunity without having to drive an hour to get to it,” said Chief Marc Balestracci of the Waterford Police Department.
On Oct. 1, the police departments, alongside Southern police and the Center of Excellence on ASD at SCSU, will host a traffic stop practice event in Groton at Fitch High School.
The event is open to drivers with a current license, car, registration, and insurance. A support person is welcome to attend. Participants will get the opportunity to review and practice the process of a routine traffic stop with the local police.
"They can understand how the traffic stop happens and how we will interact with them and it makes them feel a little more confident and hopefully will make a better police experience in the event that they do get stopped by an officer,” said Chief L.J. Fusaro with the Town of Groton Police Department.
Both Waterford and Groton police departments plan to host future events and are working to involve additional police departments including Ledyard and New London.
They believe the training is valuable not just for drivers, but for police officers as well.
"Our officers need to know that they may encounter different movements, different interactions,” Balestracci said. “And so, it is important that the officers know what to expect and the drivers know what to expect."
Officers will also teach drivers how to use the blue envelope. The CT DMV program was launched just before the pandemic to help bridge communication between officers and drivers during a traffic stop. Awareness has been a challenge for the blue envelope program.
“This event helps the awareness reach much further,” Balestracci said.
The traffic event runs from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. Participants will need to use their own vehicles for the practice sessions. To register, email email@example.com and include “Traffic Stop Practice” in the subject line.