MAYS LANDING — Atlantic County residents with special needs will have an extra layer of support and assistance from first responders due to a registry program launched Friday by the county Prosecutor’s Office.
The Atlantic County Special Needs Registry, a project in collaboration with the Prosecutor’s Office and all other law enforcement agencies in the county, aims to provide information to police, fire and emergency medical personnel so first responders are better equipped to address an emergency situation, according to a news release from Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner.
“Early on, I, along with members of my staff, recognized the benefits of getting this information into the hands of law enforcement officers and first responders to prepare them for an encounter with a person who has special needs,” Tyner said. “Time is of the essence when law enforcement officers are dealing with issues involving a person with special needs. We are confident this tool will assist us in our efforts to serve those in need.”
The registry is free and any information collected is private, according to the release. It will only be used and stored by law enforcement and first responders during times of crisis.
Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Coordinator Raymond Royster said it allows county residents and others to have direct communication with law enforcement and other first responders in times of need.
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“Many people with developmental disabilities, mental health disorders and other impairments appear atypical, which can sometimes cause an issue when they encounter law enforcement,” Royster said. “This registry will provide citizens with special needs an opportunity to inform law enforcement about their condition. The focus of the Atlantic County Special Needs Registry is to give law enforcement the tools to understand who they are encountering and what their needs are.”
County Sheriff Eric Scheffler, who serves as a board member for FACES 4 Autism, said he is “thrilled to support” the registry.
“Many of these individuals may look typical, but under stress, their behavior could mimic other issues such as mental illness, drug use or criminal behavior,” Scheffler said. “Having a registry in place will allow officers to recognize and understand these specific Individuals, their triggers and contact information. This will create a safer and healthier environment for police and community interactions.”
The county is the second in the state to launch a Special Needs Registry. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office unveiled its program in 2016. The Stafford Township Police Department in Ocean County launched a Special Needs Registry in 2017.
The state Office of Emergency Management offers a similar registry. “Register Ready — New Jersey’s Special Needs Registry for Disasters” allows residents with disabilities or access and functional needs and their families, friends, caregivers and associates an opportunity to provide information to emergency response agencies so responders can better serve them in a disaster or other emergency.