New program created by Harris County Sheriff’s Department for citizens on the Autism spectrum

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Harris County Sheriff's Department

Harris County Sheriff’s Office launches new program for individuals on the Autism Spectrum

Jessica McDermand, Reporter

            A new project is underway for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and surrounding residents. The Sheriff’s department has newly implemented these tactics under the name Project Guardian, to areas they patrol.

            Project Guardian was designed to help better protect and serve residents who have autism, that are on the spectrum, or have a similar diagnosis which may affect how they react to a situation involving a deputy. Deputies on the other hand have no way of knowing if someone has autism when they come in contact with them. Which may lead to a more stressful situation for someone with autism and miscommunication, which could result in an escalating situation for both parties. People who have been diagnosed with autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) may have different needs that must be met when encountering an officer or deputy and Project Guardian was specifically designed to better aid that.

        “Children or adults with ASD might have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound,” cdc.gov, the CDC’s official website, said.

         This shows that individuals may react in unexpected ways, which could potentially be dangerous and programs such as Project Guardian, are aimed at helping combat situations such as these. This allows a deputy to be aware of what they should do before encountering the individual and how they should approach the situation in a more beneficial manner.

            Project Guardian is essentially a database where information on an individual with autism can be uploaded if chosen. The program works by having someone sign up or be enrolled in the online platform, entering in their basic information, such as a current updated photo, an emergency contact and anything else that might pertain to helping a deputy when encountering the individual. This program was invented for the sole purpose of making Harris County residents feel safe and allowing others to utilize this platform as a tool to help make situations between deputies and citizens with autism less stressful. As well as Project Guardian, Harris County Sheriff’s Department has also made sure that deputies who are dispatched to handle situations involving an individual that is in the Project Guardian database, are well trained in similar situations. Each deputy who gets dispatched through this service undergoes courses which teach them how to better adjust to situations where someone has autism.

             A few examples of their training procedures posted to The Harris County Sheriff’s Department’s webpage are: turning off flashing lights, announcing actions beforehand, not touching the individual until deemed necessary or welcomed, reinstating that no harm is to come their way, recognizing if someone does not have developed language or verbal skills and many more. Project Guardian allows a resident to also inform deputies if someone with Autism responds better to a certain approach and in the event where a deputy was to encounter this individual, it would become easier and be carried out in a proper manner.

             Since implementing this program, Project Guardian, Harris County Sheriff’s Department has also created a decal sticker to represent the program and those who are a part of it. The design is a combination of the Autism Awareness colored puzzle pieces, as well at the department’s own logo. Many who have the stickers place it on their front doors or inside of their windows so they are readily seen if need be.

             Project Guardian is a free and optional service database where potential life-saving information can be given to deputies in the event that they encounter an individual with ASD or autism. The project is geared towards creating a better atmosphere for their community, as well as ensuring that they are protecting each citizen or resident within their area and making sure situations are properly taken care of. And since the service is optional, if chosen to, the individual can also decide to be removed from the database at any time.

           We continuously work with the community to ensure we are doing all we can to best serve our residents with compassion and understanding, Ed Gonzalez, Harris County Sheriff, said.

            On the Harris County sheriff’s office website, harriscountyso.org, there is a list of core values that the department wants to exhibit in relation to how it maintains, respects, responds and values the county of citizens they serve. These core values reflect the message of Project Guardian and are also addressed during interviews.

            “Merit and maintain the public’s trust. Embrace and deliver professional service. Protect our citizens with honor and courage. Exemplify ethical conduct at all times. Develop, encourage, and care for our Sheriff’s Office family,” harriscountyso.org said.

Many see Project Guardian as a way to help the community and better understand each other. On other social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, many individuals have expressed their opinions on the matter and over 2,100 have viewed a video explaining the program on Twitter. The video can be found on the Harris County Sheriff Department’s page. There have also been multiple interviews conducted, including one recorded on Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, which can be found at houstonpublicmedia.org. These interviews answer some of the questions a little more in depth to further understand the process and inner workings of what Project Guardian consists of and how it aims to help the community directly.

            Those who work in the department urge citizens to learn more about the program and how they could benefit from it.

            “Learn more about our Project Guardian. We are committed to finding ways to better serve our residents. Teaching our deputies the signs of autism is an important step toward preventing unfortunate situations. Learn more from Sgt. Gomez and please share,” Gonzalez said.

            Similar messages are posted across different social media pages and accounts, where citizens can comment on how Project Guardian will affect their lives and gives citizens a chance to compliment or offer constructive criticism on how to make the database used in Harris County better.