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RICHMOND, Va. -- As a part of the Peeps and Police Safety forum, Richmond Police and Autism awareness advocates met with community members Monday to start a dialogue about police encounters with someone with a mental illness.

This comes after a study by the National Sheriff's Association found at least half the people being shot and killed by police each year are believed to have mental health issues.

If handled incorrectly, such a situation can lead to confusion, stress, and sometimes death.

Peeps and Police Safety forum

Last week's fatal shooting of a suicidal pregnant woman in Washington State was among the latest police shootings that have police departments across the country questioning if they're prepared.

"I've been in law enforcement for 29 years and I never knew how a person with autism would act if I ever encountered them,” said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham. “I was like 'wow.' If I had 29 years of law enforcement and don't know that, what about the rest of the men and women of my police department."

On Monday, Durham along with several other officers, police recruits, and advocates for special needs communities met at the Richmond’s training academy.

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham

The forum was to open dialogue and enhance the understanding and awareness between disabled individuals and first responders.

Pam Mines runs the nonprofit JP Jumpers Foundation. She is well-known around Central Virginia for her work as an advocate for the autism and special needs communities.

"My son JP has autism and he's only 12," she said.

Pam Mines

Pam Mines

Parents say it's a discussion that needed to happen for the future of their children.

"I know that when my son responds, sometimes he'll respond correctly, sometimes he won't,” Mines said. “I don't want loud noises or sudden movements and misinterpretations of directions. We don't want that to be something that causes him to be harmed."

Police say the meeting was beneficial to everyone involved and a huge step forward in community policing.

They also plan to add special training for future recruits on how to handle mental health situations.