Training to understand disabilities

An interaction between an Olmsted County detention deputy and a detainee was not going well. But this wasn’t a case […]

An interaction between an Olmsted County detention deputy and a detainee was not going well. But this wasn’t a case of someone bucking authority in the jail. Instead, the inmate was autistic. The behaviors the detainee exhibited, which could easily be misunderstood as defiance, were actually just miscommunication. 

Olmsted County Sheriff’s Capt. Macey Tesmer has a disabled cousin and realized what was happening. “There’s no way that she would be able to answer those questions, and then she would get frustrated and more nervous and more anxious and then less willing to communicate.” 

Since 2019, Olmsted County has focused on training jail and law enforcement staff to be mindful of disabilities. Finding appropriate training materials and courses has not been easy. 

“Our biggest challenge has been how do we take bits and pieces of what we can get, that’s available to us, and apply that to what we do,” Tesmer said. Questions and issues such as strip searches must be handled carefully. A manual with pictures helps explains to detainees what is happening and why. Social workers and devices including fidget spinners and weighted blankets are also available. 

“It’s scary to go to jail for anybody, but then you add somebody who doesn’t really understand what’s happening, and that makes it even scarier,” Tesmer said. “So we want to try and be able to get them through the process with as little interruption for them as possible.” 

The program is working, according to Tesmer, with the team focusing on individual needs and what might help the process along. 

The training has helped Olmsted County personnel help other law enforcement agencies, outside of jail. 

(Source: Rochester Post Bulletin) 

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