App helps officers during contacts with autism subjects

The officer created the app to prevent encounters from going wrong

By PoliceOne Staff

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A St. Paul officer’s new app is designed to help police officers get information about people with autism in the field to best prepare them for a smooth interaction. 

Officer Robert Zink created the app last summer after an officer, who did not understand the teenager he was interacting with had autism, had a violent interaction, according to KMSP.

"After talking to some folks at the Autism Society, I thought to myself, ‘Man, I can use Tinder and go into a bar and know the person sitting three seats down wants to have a date with someone,” Zink told the news station. “‘Why can't I do that with someone on the spectrum?’”

When an officer comes within 40 feet of an autistic individual, Vulnerable Individuals Technology Assisted Location Services (VITALS) uses Bluetooth to send a signal with information about an autistic person to an officer’s phone.

The app delivers basic information like their name and photo, but also tells the officer about the behavior that triggers the individual and how to calm them down.

“Even though with other devices, we might be able to track them much like a wolf or an animal or a bear, this is technology trying to get the right information to the right people at the right time,” spokesperson Steve Mase said. 

VITALS is currently being tested by St. Paul officers.

Zink is aiming for a pilot program beginning next spring. 

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