On Wednesday afternoon, students from North Crowley High School and police officers from Crowley, Mansfield, and Fort Worth sat down to have lunch together and learn from one another. They were participants in the first 'Be Safe: How to Interact Safely With Police' seminar held in Texas.
"There are people with autism and other intellectual differences in this community," explained Thomas Iland, an autism self-advocate and trainer with Be Safe, a program started by Island's mother. "We're quick to say train the police. Why didn't the police know what to do? But the other side of the coin is, what did the young person not know that could have made that interaction a little bit better?"
31 students from North Crowley High School, many with autism, sat with officers as they watched videos about the importance of following laws, and what to do if an officer stops them. They also did role play exercises to reinforce learning.
"When I get stopped by a police officer, I'm gonna get out of the car, put my hands up, don't even say a word, shut my mouth," said Elijah Hicks-Hearvey, a Junior at North Crowley High School.
Iland said sometimes simple situations can escalate because of a lack of understanding.
"People with autism tend to fear change," Iland explained. "When they're receiving unfamiliar commands from an unfamiliar person and an unfamiliar situation, that's gonna make things go south really quickly."
"Interacting with these students, then I can have a better understanding by their movements, the way they respond to me," explained Officer Ursula Gardner of Fort Worth P.D. "So if I run into someone similar to that on the streets, then in the forefront of my mind I'm gonna think, oh, maybe we have the same situation."
Crowley ISD paid for the program in part with grant money. The district hopes to make it a pilot program.