Online Autism Training for Police Officers
Realistic videos bridge the gap between knowledge and practical strategies for interacting with individuals on the autism spectrum
“When you're talking about mental disabilities, there's not a lot of money for that anywhere to be found and yet these folks are really the most susceptible to trauma as a function of having an encounter with police. I was deeply committed to getting this done right. Having the ELB Learning team, especially Bill supporting me, just made me feel really secure.”
CEO & Lead Consultant
Neil Schwartz is a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology, at California State University, Chico. He has extensive experience as a learning scientist, focusing on learning cognition and instruction. In 2001, he was asked to do behavioral plans for California Vocations, a company that cares for about 50 adults with developmental disabilities. 90% of them are somewhere on the autism spectrum, usually more on the severe side. California Vocations needed support to complete behavior plans and individual service plans (ISPs). Originally, the project was only supposed to last until the end of the year.
22 years later, Neil has continued to consult for California Vocations and built out his own company, Schwartz Consulting, often hiring students who graduated from Chico State with a master's degree in psychological sciences. Schwartz designs, writes, implements, and evaluates behavior plans for maladaptive behavior to try and replace that behavior with adaptive behavior. This includes in-service training and staff development.
California Vocations reached out to Schwartz with a need for training aimed at helping police officers understand how to interact with autistic individuals. The challenge they were experiencing was that if a California Vocations staff member had difficulty with a client, and needed to call the police for assistance, they found that it was often not effective, and unfortunately, there were some traumatic episodes as a result.
Initially, California Vocations had gotten a grant to produce 6 videos for the State of California. The videos showed 6 scenarios– 3 where police officers were appropriately handling a call, and 3 where the call was handled inappropriately. However, there wasn't very much information included on autism behaviors or why certain actions are a better strategy.
“When you don't know what you don't know, you don't see what you don't know,” said Schwartz. “So I decided that we really needed to develop a web-based learning management system in order to teach what officers needed to learn.”
Strategy & Solution
Schwartz hired a film crew, a writer, producer, and local actors on the autism spectrum. His team of learning specialists at Schwartz Consulting researched the topic and wrote the instructional content, and Alexander M. Schwartz created, wrote, and starred as the police officer in the films.
“Finding the right platform was a really interesting journey. I knew what I wanted. I could visualize it, but I didn't really know what it was called. When I realized I needed a learning management system, I went on Capterra and I looked at literally hundreds of them. That experience was daunting,” said Schwartz.
The grant money would cover the first year, but after that California Vocations would have to pay for the chosen platform, so it needed to be affordable while still having the desired features.
“I got it narrowed down to 3 and then I ended up connecting with Bill Crandall at ELB Learning. That guy is a rock star! If he lived in Chico I would love to be his friend,” said Schwartz. “He was dedicated and interested and made me feel like he really wanted to help me. Every single time I needed something, I would send an email and get an email back from him within 5 minutes. He's amazing, and he's the reason I came to ELB Learning and chose the Rockstar Learning Platform.”
In addition to putting the content on the Rockstar Learning Platform, Schwartz built all the content and knowledge checks in Lectora, an authoring tool by ELB Learning.
Using Lectora and the Rockstar Learning Platform, the Schwartz Consulting team created 5 video-based sections of instruction, plus a course introduction that explains the content focus—autism and how to deliver public safety services to the autistic population.
The modules introduce police officers to three adults, all of whom are on the autism spectrum. Each video introduces real-life situations that occur just before the police are called.
Throughout the project, the Chico Police Department supported the Schwartz consulting team, providing officers to direct traffic during filming and providing a uniform and police car so that the videos would appear true to life. Officers came to dress rehearsals and provided feedback on how to make the content more realistic from the police operations side. The man who played the police officer in the videos is a professional actor and spent a lot of time with the Chico police department doing ride-alongs so he could accurately portray an officer.
All the modules have quizzes at the end and/or knowledge checks interspersed throughout the content. Knowledge checks range from a handful of questions up to longer quizzes covering more material.
Feedback is also included and provides a lot of teaching for the learner. Each video clearly educates police officers on the right techniques for each situation and how to interview someone with autism correctly.
“When you're talking about mental disabilities, there's not a lot of money for that anywhere to be found and yet these folks are really the most susceptible to trauma as a function of having an encounter with police. I was deeply committed to getting this done right,” said Schwartz. “Having the ELB Learning team, especially Bill supporting me, just made me feel really secure.”
“It has been a pleasure to work with Dr. Schwartz and his team on this project supported by ELB Learning’s LMS software,” said Joel Schmid, Training Sergeant for the Chico Police Department. “We are very pleased with Dr. Schwartz’s training program as it bridges the gap between knowledge about autism and practical strategies for interacting with individuals on the autism spectrum. Dr. Schwartz did a great job maintaining the balance between creating training relevant to the first responder community while staying both contemporary and engaging.”
Schwartz Consulting and Chico Police Department are submitting the training to California’s Peace Officer’s Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) system in the hopes that it can be taken by officers across the state for credit, further spreading the reach of this training. They are also working to get the training into California’s 31 police academies.
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