By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is the first state police department in the country to have all of its officers certified in sensory-inclusive practices, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Tuesday.
All of ALEA’s sworn officers have now received training on how to more effectively handle situations that involve someone with sensory needs or those with invisible disabilities.
“Too often we have citizens with sensory issues or folks who have PTSD, autism, dementia and a whole host of special needs that frankly our heroes in blue haven’t been trained to deal with up to this point,” Ivey said.
The training was provided for free by KultureCity, a Birmingham-based non-profit organization focused on helping communities become more accepting and inclusive for people with invisible disabilities.
Founder and CEO Dr. Julian Maha said on Tuesday that their partnership with ALEA shows that Alabama is a leader in sensory diversity and inclusion for the entire nation.
“All of us here have started a movement and changed culture, something that soon will be in every single first responder department in the rest of our county,” Maha said. “Today Alabama leads first.”
The sworn personnel who received the training include state troopers, special agents with the Alabama Bureau of Investigations, communication officers and all personnel within ALEA’s driver license division.
In addition to the training, ALEA officers will be equipped with special sensory aids like nonverbal communication cards and noise-blocking headphones to help them when interacting with people who have sensory issues. A special decal will also be on all ALEA cars to show that the officer has been certified.
ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said on Tuesday that the training was much needed as law enforcement officials across the state are developing new ways to improve their interactions with all Alabamians.
“Law enforcement officers in this state and all around the nation wear many hats every day,” Taylor said. “Wearing those different hats, you need to be trained for whatever hat you have on. To me, this is another tool in the toolbox that we have to do our job properly.”
Employees completed a training video and an assessment certifying them on sensory inclusive needs and will receive continual training throughout the year and coming years, Taylor said.
The city of Helena has already adopted the training and was the first city in Alabama to have all of its sworn officers certified in the training, Maha said.
The Alabama League of Municipalities is also working to encourage all cities and towns to partner with KultureCity for training among police officers.
“We appreciate Gov. Ivey and ALEA’s dedication to ensure Alabama’s first responders are equipped with the necessary resources to assist individuals with sensory needs,” Alabama League of Municipalities Executive Director Greg Cochran said. “The League encourages municipalities to take advantage of proven programs that address specific challenges within their communities.”
Ivey said the updated training for law enforcement is part of Alabama’s pursuit of improving mental health awareness and better outcomes.
Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Kim Boswell said on Tuesday that KultureCity’s training aligns with the department’s own work in opening up three new crisis centers in Montgomery, Mobile and Huntsville. There are also plans to open another in the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa area.
“As we expand availability of crisis services across the state, positive interactions with law enforcement and first responders will support those individuals in crisis receiving services at the right place, at the right time,” Boswell said. “It is important to have someone you trust to talk to, someone you trust to respond and a place to go where people understand you.”
All three crisis centers are now offering services and are designed to be safe spaces where law enforcement, first responders and hospitals can take individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
The crisis centers were made possible after the Alabama Legislature made it a priority in 2020 and appropriated $18 million for their creation.