NORRISTOWN — Montgomery County’s law enforcement community is launching an innovative program that officials say will assist drivers with special needs during their interactions with police officers.
Dubbed the “Blue Envelope Program,” the initiative will assist drivers who have conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, communications challenges, dementia, anxiety or other conditions that might impair their ability to communicate easily during a traffic stop, car accident or other on-the-road interactions with police officers. Officials said the program also raises awareness among police officers regarding the types of driver reactions they may observe during such traffic stops.
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Whitpain Township Police Chief Kenneth Lawson, who is current president of the Montgomery County Police Chiefs Association, unveiled the program this week.
“Traffic stops are a high-stress situation for most drivers. The driver sees the police lights come on behind them and they get worried about what they did wrong or if they might get a ticket. And that stress might even be magnified in some population of drivers,” Steele said. “This program paves the way for as smooth an interaction as possible between police and those individuals who might not respond in ways that are expected.”
Under the program, when an officer approaches a vehicle during a traffic stop, the driver will be instructed to inform the police officer that they have a “Blue Envelope” and then hand the envelope to the officer.
The driver will be instructed to place inside the envelope a copy of their driver’s license, automobile registration and proof of auto insurance along with a form that includes information about the driver’s special needs and a contact person, if necessary, to assist with the interaction.
“Our police officers are here to protect and serve every single person in our jurisdictions, and this program ensures that police are aware of the Blue Envelope driver’s condition and the driver is aware of what to expect and what to do during a traffic stop. The program will help both parties,” Lawson said.
The Blue Envelope Program, which also has been implemented in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut for autistic drivers, was brought to the attention of Upper Gwynedd Police Chief David Duffy by Ben Hartranft, a 25-year-old resident of Montgomery Township with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The police chiefs association enthusiastically supported the idea and added other types of driver conditions beyond ASD to make it more inclusive, Steele explained.
“Montgomery County is being a leader in awareness for those with autism and others,” Hartranft said. “I am really excited that the Blue Envelope Program will bring awareness to action so those who work in law enforcement can understand more about people with autism and other conditions.”
The exterior of the blue envelope indicates whether the driver is verbal or non-verbal and instructs the driver to inform a police officer that they have a blue envelope when the officer approaches the vehicle.
Instructions for the driver include: keep your hands on the steering wheel unless otherwise directed; the officer may shine a flashlight in your car; and when asked for your vehicle/driver documents, hand the officer this envelope.
Information printed on the envelope for police officers includes: driver may show signs of anxiety due to bright lights and noises; driver may have difficulty communicating and may not maintain eye contact; and clearly tell the driver when the stop is over and that they can leave.
Officials said the special blue envelopes are available for free to all residents at police departments throughout Montgomery County.