In a move to enhance interactions between law enforcement and individuals with disabilities, Alabama has passed a new law to require all police officers to undergo specialized sensory training.
The legislation, called the Cade Noah Act, mandates that all law enforcement personnel across the state obtain Sensory Inclusive™ Certification, specialized training provide by Alabama-based organization KultureCity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people has a disability, making it imperative for law enforcement to be equipped with the necessary tools to understand and address the unique challenges faced by individuals with sensory needs.
Dr. Julian Maha, co-founder of KultureCity, believes the training will help prepare officers for encounters with individuals who have invisible disabilities.
“What could look like someone might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol could actually be a sensory overload episode,” Maha said. “Training helps give them the tools in order to better understand and help mitigate the circumstances.”
State Representative Leigh Hulsey, whose son is autistic, sponsored the legislation. She stressed the need for ensuring the safety of individuals with sensory needs.
“I needed to know, as a parent, that when we sent him off, that he could do those things for himself, and that he would be safe,” Hulsey said.
The legislation requires law enforcement personnel to complete a one-hour Sensory Inclusive™ Certification training every other year, facilitated by KultureCity.
The training, similar to that used by other agencies across the country, covers essential aspects such as understanding and managing sensory overload episodes, effective communication techniques and recognizing diverse responses to common inquiries.
Hulsey provided a personal example of how proper training can make a difference in interactions. “Even the way you ask him a question makes a difference in the outcome or the response that we get from him,” she said, referring to her son.
Without adequate training, simple inquiries such as asking for identification could be misunderstood, leading to potential misunderstandings between law enforcement and individuals with sensory needs.
KultureCity’s training not only imparts knowledge but also equips law enforcement with tools, such as sensory bags containing items designed to alleviate sensory overload for individuals they interact with.
Helena Police Chief Brad Flynn believes the training could have a lifesaving impact.
“It is proven to save lives. We saved lives less than two weeks after we rolled ours out in Helena,” he said.
According to Flynn, there is a high potential for misinterpretation by officers in such encounters, where individuals with developmental disabilities might be mistakenly perceived under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The training ensures that law enforcement can accurately identify and safely engage with such individuals.
While the Cade Noah Act is a recent development, KultureCity has been at the forefront of training first responders for years.
According to Maha, the organization was founded in Salt Lake City in 2020, and its training was swiftly adopted by all state troopers in Alabama, making it the first state in the country to mandate such training for all troopers.
The Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission confirmed that the Sensory Inclusive™ Certification training will be incorporated into the curriculum for law enforcement academies, ensuring that future generations of officers are well-prepared to serve individuals with sensory needs.
The overarching goal of the legislation is to create awareness, provide education and foster positive interactions with a vulnerable group in the community.