The love of one local father and former police officer is propelling him beyond the call of duty for his son – and teaching current officers skills that really hit home.
For Bart Barta, autism is personal. Barta's 13-year-old son Daniel was diagnosed with autism ten years ago – something that one out of every 68 kids in the United States is diagnosed with, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The whole trajectory of our family life completely changed because now our focus was on getting Daniel the therapies that he really needed,” the former Coral Gables officer and retired commander said.
Barta has provided special autism training for more than five thousand officers from South Florida to Tennessee. His motivation is simple.
"I want Daniel to be safe, I want other people with autism to be safe if they come in contact with a law enforcement officer,” Barta said.
Last year, a 23-year-old man with autism wandered from his group home. In an encounter with North Miami officers, police shot his caretaker, Charles Kinsey. Kinsey was wounded in the leg and survived.
"After that incident occurred in North Miami, I was contacted by the police department and asked if I could come and provide training to their officers and I did,” said Barta.
Barta says he trained North Miami's entire department, teaching officers to recognize and respond to someone with autism. Barta says it's important for officers to understand and be able to communicate with someone who has autism because its easy to misinterpret what they are trying to convey.
"When Daniel gets nervous or he gets anxious, he may have difficulty communicating effectively,” Barta said. "If you ask a person with autism 'Where do you live?' they may tell the officer, 'In a house' and then the officer might think that the person is being a smart Alec. In fact the person is not, because that's literally what they heard."
Barta said the most important thing about his mission is "autism understanding and autism acceptance" – and it's a mission that makes Daniel proud of his dad.
This October, a new state law was enacted requiring the same training Barta is doing for all law enforcement officers in the state of Florida.