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Safer stops

Employee spearheads new motorist alert system

Two women smiling
Jenny Hughes, a Toledo, OH, retail associate, worked with one of her state representatives, Theresa Gavarone, right, on a new system to aid motorists with communication difficulties during traffic stops.

An Ohio employee helped inspire a new statewide system that lets police officers who perform traffic stops know if a motorist has communication difficulties.

Like many mothers, Jenny Hughes felt anxious when her son, Jay Castro, began driving to work last year.

Castro has autism, and Hughes — a Toledo retail associate — didn’t want the 24-year-old to raise concerns if stopped by police.

“I went to police chiefs in the area to let them know he could become upset and start crying,” she said. “I didn’t want them to think he’d done something wrong.”

Hughes, whose younger son, Gabe, also has autism, wondered if there was a way for officers to receive an alert about drivers with communication difficulties when entering license plate information into the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS).

She proposed the alert system to a state lawmaker who liked the idea and co-sponsored a bill to allow people to voluntarily submit their information to a database that links to LEADS.

Hughes testified before Ohio House and Senate members who voted unanimously to support the bill, which was recently signed into law.

“Law enforcement officers have a split second to make decisions,” Rep. Theresa Gavarone, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Toledo Blade. “This will give them more information that may help the situation.”

Hughes, whose work on the project took place on her own time, said she’s receiving supportive messages from colleagues, customers and community members.

One woman wrote her to share a negative experience of a family member with Parkinson’s disease who was pulled over.

Hughes hopes other states will adopt similar policies.

“I feel more confident that my kids are safer,” she said. “Having a picture of what could be happening inside that car could help.”

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