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The City Journals

West Jordan High Schoool raises money for police autism awareness

Jul 26, 2021 03:16PM ● By Erin Dixon

Clark’s Island Donuts sold doughnuts to support the fundraiser. (image/Michael Jacobson)

By Erin Dixon| [email protected]

West Jordan High School students raised money to support autism training in the West Jordan Police Department. Michael Jacobson, special needs team lead at West Jordan High School, spearheaded the fundraisers. 

“We put on some events to raise money at our school,” Jacobson said. “We had super-supportive students and staff and community members wear colors for autism awareness.”

Jacobson hosted several fundraisers during the 2020–2021 school year. 

“We had a student design our autism awareness T-shirt,” Jacobson said. “Our students and staff purchased those [shirts] to raise money. Our cooking class, they made sugar cookies and sold those at lunch. We were able to raise $969.”

Luckily, West Jordan police have already started autism training. Utah House Bill 334, a bill requiring autism and mental illness training for police officers, passed earlier this year.

“Situations with law enforcement can become extremely stressful and dangerous for the individual with autism and the officers if the two sides don’t have an understanding and comfort with each other,” Jacobson said. “That is really the goal, for the autism community and law enforcement to develop understanding and be comfortable with each other. That will only come through training and opportunities for positive interactions.”

In anticipation of the passing of the bill, West Jordan Police Chief Ken Wallentine was the first in the state to put together an autism training program. The high school money will pay for future autism training. 

“Chief Wallentine worked to put together a four-hour block of training,” Lt. Rich Bell said. “Giving our officers an overview of what autism is: the varying degrees, strategies for dealing with and working with people that have those sensory issues.”

The training was done through some classroom work and virtual training. 

“What’s so tricky about law enforcement in general, it depends on what type of situation you're dealing with and to what degree they’re dealing with autism,” Bell said. “If they’re in crisis, if they're reporting a crime, some of their tendencies officers in the past may have misinterpreted. [The officers] need to assess the situation so they know how to deal with the situation. I would suspect this initial training, that’s just the foundation. We’re going to want to build on that.”

The money from the school will help provide additional training in the near future.