It was a tough year to be a police officer. Police everywhere were reviled for the reprehensible actions of a few. Yet wonderful officers across the country were quietly teaching teens and adults with disabilities the skills they need to be safe. While their good work went almost unnoticed, hundreds of individuals with special needs and their families personally benefitted from the officers’ efforts, and have the promise of better and safer lives.
There is no doubt that youth and adults with autism, intellectual disability, and similar conditions are at great risk in a police encounter. They may not know how to follow instructions. They may not understand procedures or know how to cooperate. They might panic and run. It is not enough to leave safety to chance. Safety skills for interacting with the police have to be carefully taught and practiced.
Dozens of local organizations from Alaska to Mexico collaborated with local police to host community events called BE SAFE Interactive Screenings so that everyone could learn to be safe. After watching a video that shows what to do in different police encounters, every person in the room had the chance to practice different skills 1:1 with an officer. Youth and adults learned to stay calm, cooperate and follow instructions. Officers had “eyes on” training and the chance to get to know the people they serve. It is no exaggeration to say that magic happened every time, and everyone felt it.
Back to the inevitable comparison to Ferguson…The only way to build trust and cooperation between police and the community is through relationships. Connection and mutual understanding with local law enforcement is particularly essential for our most vulnerable citizens.
It is hard enough for peace officers to put their lives on the line to serve and protect on the average day, and worse still when morale is low. It is a wonderful thing to end the year by looking back on the great accomplishments of the officers who gave their time to help others learn to be safe, and the lasting, positive impact of their efforts. And we can all thank them for it.