HARRIS COUNTY — The Harris County Sheriff’s Office launched Project Guardian to improve the agency’s interactions with children and adults in Harris County on the autism spectrum. The innovative program engages families with loved ones with autism and provides deputies with critical information about the person with autism, including any special needs should they encounter them when responding to a call for service.

“We continuously work with the community to ensure we are doing all we can to best serve our residents with compassion and understanding,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Project Guardian engages the community, builds positive relationships, and embraces public safety as a shared responsibility. It’s an example of what we can accomplish together.”

A simple interaction with law enforcement could be a very stressful or traumatic situation for a person with autism. Flashing lights on an emergency vehicle may cause a person with autism to become frightened and act out.

Families are encouraged to participate in the program by submitting basic information about their loved one with autism, including a recent photo and any individual characteristics attributed to autism that deputies should take into consideration during their interaction with them.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is committed to diverting individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis away from the criminal justice system and toward more appropriate care, resources, and services. Every deputy is required to complete a 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training course to ensure they respond as professionally, humanely, and safely as possible to the scene of a mental health crisis. Deputies learn the wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms persons with autism experience, as well as ways to comfort them and de-escalate situations that may arise.

Project Guardian database information will be kept confidential and only provided to deputies if they are responding to a call for service at a residence with a registered program participant. For more information on Project Guardian or to register a loved one with autism, visit http://www.harriscountycit.org/project-guardian/.

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