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Monday, May 27, 2024

Warren County Police Start ‘Blue Envelope’ Program

Warren County Commissioner James R. Kern III, liaison for public safety, announces the Blue Envelope Program at a news conference. Photo courtesy of the W.C. Office of Public Information

PRESS RELEASE: WHITE TOWNSHIP (March 3, 2023) – Law enforcement agencies in Warren County launched a new program to improve interactions between a driver with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and a police officer during a traffic stop, officials announced today.

Called the “Blue Envelope Program,” the initiative funded by Warren County government provides a blue envelope to individuals with ASD that contains written information and guidance to help facilitate effective communication with police officers, making traffic stops safer and less stressful for all parties involved.

“Overall, the Blue Envelope Program represents a crucial step toward promoting greater inclusivity and understanding in our communities while also providing our police with the tools they need to keep everyone safe,” Warren County Commissioner James R. Kern III, commission liaison for public safety, said during the program announcement held at the Wayne Dumont, Jr. Administration Building. “We are proud to support this important initiative in Warren County,” Kern added.

Representatives of nearly every municipal police department in the county, as well as the county Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office, were on hand for the announcement. Also participating were state Sen. Douglas J. Steinhardt and Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio, who have teamed up to sponsor legislation to implement the Blue Envelope Program statewide.

Pohatcong Police Chief Scott Robb, who is president of the Warren County Police Chiefs Association, said the Blue Envelope Program originated in Connecticut in 2020. Outside of that state, Warren is only the second county, after neighboring Hunterdon, to establish the program, he said.

All officers in Warren County will be trained in the program, Robb explained. The blue envelopes can be obtained at all local police departments in the county, as well as the Sheriff’s Office, he added.

Steinhardt noted the envelope with its instructions and information for both police and drivers will help to avoid any unnecessary confusion or escalation during a traffic stop, helping the officer and the person with ASD to communicate more effectively.

“All too often there are misunderstandings that can escalate situations,” DiMaio said, adding the program will result in “a better outcome for everyone.”

Participating drivers should keep important documents – vehicle registration, insurance card, driver’s license and emergency contract information – inside the envelope to avoid the tension of searching for those documents during a stop. Printed on the outside of the blue envelope, in large letters, are the words “DRIVER IS ON THE AUTISTIC SPECTRUM” followed by a line to indicate whether the driver is verbal or nonverbal.

One side of the envelope has information for drivers, letting them know to keep their hands on the steering wheel unless otherwise directed, and notes that an officer may shine a flashlight in the car, may have a radio, and may have flashing lights on their car. A “Police Officer Spectrum Awareness Guide” is found on the other side of the envelope, informing officers that the driver “may exhibit signs of anxiety due to bright lights and noises like your radio” and that “Driver may display repetitive body movements or fidgeting and may have unusual eye contact.”

Officers are alerted to speak clearly, use the most simplistic explanations possible, allow drivers extra time to respond, and to clearly tell the driver when the stop is over and they can leave. The envelope also notes that if the driver becomes upset, the officer should consider contacting the person listed on the contact card.

Warren County First Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Robinson noted that “a great deal of law enforcement depends on perception” and the Blue Envelope Program establishes from the outset what police and the public can expect in a traffic stop involving someone on the autism spectrum.