PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A new law aimed at helping to improve interactions between law enforcement and people with disabilities goes into effect on January 1.

SB 784 which is named the ‘Protect Our Loved Ones Act’ allows local police and sheriff departments to develop and maintain databases of people in their communities with developmental, psychological, or other disabilities.

The listed conditions also include autism, Alzheimers, dementia, and Down syndrome.

What You Need To Know

  • ‘Protect Our Loved Ones Act’ takes effect January 1

  •  Guardians and parents can voluntarily submit information 

  •  Up to local police departments to decide if they want to create a database

  • Hillsborough, Pinellas have similar programs in place 

A parent or caretaker would have the choice to voluntarily submit someone with a disability to the registry, should their local law enforcement agency create one.

Michelle Detwiler with the Parc Center for Disabilities says she feels this new legislation has been a long time coming.

“For safety, I think it could help everybody involved,” she said. “When a first responder goes out, if they know the special needs of the person that’s involved with the crisis, they can be better prepared to approach the situation with a little bit more compassion and understanding and eliminating any possible unnecessary interaction.”

Detwiler says in some cases, the person’s disability isn’t visible and can cause miscommunications with law enforcement interactions. She says this new legislation helps bring needed attention to the developmentally disabled population.

“We’re talking about people who are super vulnerable and we have to protect them,” she said.

Detwiler feels that the positives of the new legislation outweigh any possible concerns.

Special Eduction advocate Latina Nickelson says the bill is a step in the right direction but has a number of concerns. She hopes that in the future, law enforcement agencies add more resources to answer calls that involve special needs individuals.

“I think there needs to be a real step-by-step process that if I have opted into this list, that what happens is they automatically send a behavioral health person or a counselor,” she said.

While the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office does not plan to create a database under the new law, they stated their ‘Respond with Care’ program earlier this year helps to identify special needs residents in case of emergency.

St. Pete Police and Clearwater police have no immediate plans to create a database, but say they may consider in the future if they feel it’s needed.