Law enforcement database to alert police if driver, passenger suffers from communication disability

Lisa Berner constantly worries about her son Ehren’s safety.

"He has autism, developmental disabilities, some underlying mental illness and he can become aggressive,” Berner said.

For the last six months, he's been living at a residential treatment facility an hour away from his home in North Ridgeville. Berner is worried the police officers in his new city will not understand his disability or know he has one just by looking at him.

"They don't know his story, they don't know what he's struggling with,” Berner said.

Berner said that puts her 14-year-old son at risk.

"He's also almost 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, so you're not going to think this is a child that has an IQ of 47. You might think this is an older person,” Berner said.

Right now, police departments across Ohio are preparing to tap into a new database that will notify officers before they come in contact with someone like Ehren.

“I think that it happens frequently,” South Euclid Police Chief Kevin Nietert said.

This summer, in addition to notifying police if the owner of a vehicle has a concealed carry permit, the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System will also alert officers if the driver or a passenger inside has a difficult time expressing his or herself.

“The more information you have the better suited or prepared we're going to be to respond,” Nietert said.

Nietert said the heads-up will allow his officers the opportunity to change how they approach an individual with communication issues. He believes the new database will not only better protect those with communication barriers, but officers as well.

"If we can avoid the event from escalating to a point where a physical altercation takes place, because typically that's where the injuries or potential death could occur,” Nietert said.

With her son away getting the treatment he needs, Berner takes comfort in knowing her son's struggles will soon be shared with police, just in case he comes in contact with an officer.

“It really can save a life. A lot of times these individuals get hurt when they really just need some help,” Berner said.

The database is expected to launch in August and is completely voluntary. Families and individuals with a confirmed diagnosis can submit information through Opportunities for Ohioans With Disabilities’ website.

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