HENDRICKS COUNTY — Multiple law enforcement agencies have joined together for a new campaign that wants to help first responders identify situations and locations where they may be engaging with an individual with a cognitive disability or medical impairment.
AWARE provides a 4” emblem/sticker that can be placed on vehicles and residences to serve as an indicator that first responders may likely interact with an individual with a cognitive disorder. The decals will help officers and first responders identify situations where someone may struggle with communication or compliance.
Arin Sparger is an Avon mom of two and full-time caregiver for her daughter Emma, 8, who lives with Down Syndrome.
During the pandemic, Sparger said she was in a car accident with both kids. Emma, she said, was not able to communicate with first responders.
“It brought to light something that I hadn’t really thought of too much. We always take for granted that we’re safe in our homes and driving around and we don’t know what we don’t know, right?” Sparger said.
Not long after the accident, Sparger said she began working with Avon Police to find a solution.
“It allows the professional in that moment to take a moment, take a breath and try and realize what might be different about that individual and how they can safely and effectively help them,” Sparger said.
"Officers are dispatched to calls for service on a daily basis, and they regularly encounter an overabundance of unknown factors. AWARE aims to reduce unnecessary use of force by officers who may reasonably misinterpret the actions of a cognitively disabled individual," the website says.
Individuals or caregivers can go to AWARE's website and download a medical referral form. Applicants may then bring their signed medical referral form to the Avon Police Department, Plainfield Police Department, Brownsburg Police Department, Danville Metropolitan Police Department, or the Hendricks County Sheriff's Office to receive the decal.
"Law enforcement officers in general are given a lot of training now when it comes to mental health awareness, but one gap is when we do deploy those resources, what can we do to help empower those officers to identify those situations before they have their initial engagement?" Avon Deputy Chief of Police Brian Nugent said. "That's what we're trying to do; we're trying to bridge that gap."