This month, the police department in Shawnee, Kansas invited children and adults with autism to meet with officers and explore police equipment in a climate-controlled, sensory-friendly environment.
According to a report by the news site Shawnee Mission Post, the event was the first of its kind held by the police department. Officer Roman Madrigal, who coordinated the event, said the officers plan to make it a regular part of their outreach programming.
Madrigal said the event resulted from a collaboration between Sgt. Craig Hermann and the police department’s designated mental health co-responder with the Johnson County Mental Health Center. Madrigal said he realized that many of the department’s events were inaccessible to families of children with autism due to noise and large crowds, which can be overwhelming for people on the autism spectrum.
To minimize stress for the participants, the event had a notably smaller scale than others typically held by the department. Each of the roughly 30 visitors, parents, and caretakers was assigned a police officer for a guided tour. The five volunteering officers also avoided blasting the sirens, unless the guests requested that they do so. The visits were relatively short at about 15 minutes each, though Madrigal said the parents and caretakers could tell that the visitors were enjoying it.
“It really was all positive,” Madrigal said, regarding visitor feedback. “One lady was even asking when are you doing this again? We were all pretty positive we would do it again, but that only affirmed that this is something that we need to do and expand. I think this will become one of the standard offerings that we do out of our community outreach unit.”