Tinton Falls, New Jersey –
World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, but one DLA Disposition Services customer makes it part of its daily mission.
The Tinton Falls Police Department in New Jersey acquired six Humvees through DoD's Law Enforcement Support Office program, which DLA Disposition Services administers. The department painted one bright blue to help raise awareness of autism among law enforcement officers and others.
“My son is 11 years old and has autism, “ said Captain Gerald Turning Jr., a 20-year veteran of the department. His concern was more than personal; it was professional as well.
“My department has been very receptive, open and proactive in terms of advocacy and outreach for the special-needs community,” Turning said.
Turning said he has seen a gap in communications between families who have a special-needs member and emergency responders.
“A lot of times, [first responders] misunderstand our kids and interpret their behaviors or the way they act as either defiant or non-compliant. Or sometimes, a lot their behaviors mimic intoxication or things like that,” he said.
And in the worst-case scenario, Turning said, “tragedy happens.”
To reach out to both sides, Turning came up with the idea to paint one of the Humvees from the 1033 program blue and use it as a community-outreach tool.
He points out it's not just a show piece; it's a fully functional police vehicle that has been used alongside their other Humvees during emergency situations — including this winter’s snow storms.
And when it’s not pulling those duties, it's used “just to start the conversation or bring the kids out to show them that the cops are the good guys and not the bad guys, or that they should not be afraid of us,” Turning said. “We are the ones they can run to if they need help. That is what we have been trying to do.”
Turning says his department and the blue Humvee have been invited to events in other towns to help get the conversation started there too. He said he speaks to emergency responders across New Jersey to help them better understand the possible signs a person with autism may display.
He said the support of his chief, coupled with a blue Humvee, was making it possible to start a conversation — one that could be critical.