SALT LAKE CITY — A bill being considered in the Utah legislature would require peace officers to have training in intervention responses to autism spectrum disorder and other mental illnesses.
House Bill 334, put forth by Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Sandy), was introduced during the 2021 legislative session and passed through a committee on Monday. It will now go to the full House for a vote.
“I know that officers don’t want to be put in that position either, and our kids are so easily misconstrued as doing criminal activity or not being understood,” said Cheryl Smith, founder of the Utah Autism Council.
Smith came to Rep. Eliason to craft the bill. She was motivated to make changes following the police shooting of an autistic boy on Sep. 4 in Salt Lake City.
“I think if the officers would have had the knowledge and training about autism, they might have handled that differently," Smith said.
13-year-old Linden Cameron, who is autistic and has Asperger syndrome according to a lawsuit filed by his family, was shot 11 times by a Salt Lake City Police officer on that early September night.
“I definitely think it’s been a long time coming, and I was already under the impression that those things were already put into place,” said Golda Barton, Linden Cameron’s mother. “I think it’s a little late, but I would be thankful and hopeful that what happened to my family wouldn’t have to happen to somebody else’s family.”
Barton supports H.B. 334 and is glad it has been taken to a statewide level. As for her son who survived the incident, Barton says he’s constantly in pain and there are more surgeries planned down the road. There is a GoFundMe campaign to help the family pay for the resulting medical expenses.
“It’s going to make a big difference I think, with our populations and also with officers," Smith said about the bill. "Nobody wants to be in that position where someone’s going to get hurt."
Smith also mentioned the Utah Autism Council will be conducting the training "free of charge" to the officers.
“I feel like we’re going forward with this training with or without the bill, because there’s a lot of need for it. There’s a lot of people wanting it," she added.