Sheriff Tony Discusses the Importance of Autism Awareness in Public Safety

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Sheriff Gregory Tony

A Message from Sheriff Gregory Tony:

Every Sunday morning, when Pompano Beach District Captain Martin Hedelund’s twin boys were young, he would take them on drives around Broward County, showing them various landmarks and sights. Captain Hedelund would do all the talking; Dalton and Martin Jr. sat and listened. They were four-years-old and nonverbal – a developmental delay caused by autism.

Today, Captain Hedelund’s boys are 14. Both can speak and express themselves in different ways. They remember those trips with dad, sometimes down to the date on which they happened.

“It has been cataloged in their minds all these years,” said Captain Hedelund. “While the twins are aware of what is going on, sometimes they just can’t tell us that they know. We have faced challenges as a family, but with the blessings of early diagnosis, curriculum-based learning, and having two caring parents, Dalton and Martin Jr. have exceeded expectations.”

As a veteran law enforcement officer, Captain Hedelund became better at his job from his personal experiences with autism. He learned how to read body language better and pick up on important social cues. His wife, Margi, has dedicated her life to spreading awareness about autism. She is a board member of the Autism Society of Florida. She travels across the state, sometimes with her sons, to teach first responders about autism awareness and how to communicate more effectively with individuals on the spectrum.

At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, we understand the importance of autism awareness in public safety. We have instituted proactive programs and initiatives and continue to provide specialized training to assist our first responders in serving this population better.

BSO Sheriff Tony

Captain Martin Hedelund

Our most progressive initiative is the implementation of the BSO Cares program. The program provides first responders with important information about persons with disabilities so we can respond more appropriately to calls for service. Participation in the program is voluntary and available to anyone who resides in or frequently visits Broward County with a special needs diagnosis. To learn more about the program, or to register yourself or a loved one, please visit www.sheriff.org/BSOCares.

We also continue to ensure more first responders receive Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. This unique training enhances the understanding of the signs and symptoms of someone with behavioral health issues. It also helps provide a more prepared and aware approach when interacting with an individual on the spectrum.

BSO is honored to have some incredible community partnerships with organizations such as Surfers for Autism and Autism in Flight with JetBlue. Surfers for Autism is a community event that gives individuals with autism a chance to learn to surf. Autism in Flight provides a full airport experience for children with autism and their families. They go through check-in and ticketing, security, boarding, and a taxiway ride on the tarmac. The program aims to make the prospect of a commercial flight less intimidating.

At BSO, we will continue to work hard to further develop these essential programs and partnerships. Our goal is to ensure all persons are served with respect and protected in the safest possible manner.

Sheriff Gregory Tony

Certain Broward cities like Coconut Creek, Hallandale Beach, Pembroke Pines, Sunrise, Plantation, Davie, Margate, Miramar, Lauderhill, Lighthouse Point, and Coral Springs maintain their police departments; however, BSO does provide communications and dispatch services to the following cities: Central Broward, Cooper City, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, Ft Lauderdale-Hollywood Int’l Airport, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Lauderdale Lakes, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Parkland, Pembroke Park, West Park, Pompano Beach, Port Everglades, Tamarac, Weston and unincorporated West Broward.

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