HOWELL – April is recognized as Autism Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating the public about autism and promoting a more accepting attitude. To that end, local police are doing their part – by participating in an initiative known as the Blue Envelope program.
Earlier this month, the Monmouth County Police Chiefs Association announced its participation in the program. The Howell Police Department was among the countywide law enforcement agencies to receive blue envelopes for distribution among drivers on the autism spectrum disorder.
The envelope is designed to alert law enforcement authorities to critical information in both traffic stops and accident calls.
Most people admit that flashing lights coming from behind them creates a sense of anxiety. However, for someone with sensory issues, the problem intensifies. The outer envelope also contains basic reminders for the driver, including the possibility of the officer shining a flashlight into the vehicle. Bright lights can trigger sensory overload, further adding to confusion and discomfort.
“The directions also detail the process of events that should occur during the stop and how the driver should proceed,” shared Howell Police in a Facebook post. “The envelope will hold a copy of their license, registration, and insurance card, along with a document that explains their medical diagnosis and provides contact information of family or another person, if needed.”
Drivers are also asked to mark the envelope as to whether they are verbal or non-verbal. This information can be crucial for law enforcement officers, as it helps them better understand how to better interact with the driver. Officers can avoid potential misunderstandings and de-escalate potentially volatile situations by being aware of the driver’s communication abilities, promoting greater safety for all involved.
Fortunately, there have been no reported issues between drivers on the autism spectrum and law enforcement officers at both the local and statewide levels. Authorities attribute this to an emphasis on police training and education in dealing with people in all types of situations.
“Our department places great value on training,” said Howell Police Chief John Storrow. “We’ve participated in several trainings to bring awareness to interacting with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
In 2017, Howell Police designed a special autism patch for department members to wear on one side of their uniform sleeves, along with another for cancer awareness.
Anthony De Franco, 34, was born deaf and on the spectrum. When De Franco first earned his driving privileges, his license was marked with a sticker saying he was deaf. He now has a cochlear implant and the back of his license states he is hearing impaired.
De Franco believes that the Blue Envelope program will be very helpful for individuals with autism. He was stopped on two separate occasions on the Garden State Parkway.
“I stayed calm and didn’t get angry at the cop,” said De Franco. “I had my cochlear implant on and I was able to understand the orders from the cop. He was very patient with me because he understood I am deaf since I showed my license to him.”
The idea behind the Blue Envelope program was first conceived in January 2020 in Connecticut and has since been incorporated into the state’s legislation. Bills have been introduced by both New Jersey’s state assembly and senate that would mirror Connecticut’s laws.
Local residents who would like a blue envelope should contact Howell Police Captain Mark Pilecki at 732 938-4575, Extension 2869.