Shawnee police offer sensory-friendly tours for children with autism

Shawnee Traffic Officer Mike Saylor (left) shows 22-year-old Levi his motorcycle as part of the police department’s sensory-friendly tours last weekend. Photo submitted by Roman Madrigal

Shawnee police officers last weekend created a sensory-friendly, climate-controlled environment in the station in order to welcome children and adults with autism who were visiting for the day.

The Shawnee Police Department on Saturday morning led tours for children and adults ages 5-30 with Autism Spectrum Disorder, so they could meet some of the officers and explore police vehicles and equipment at the station, located at 5850 Renner Road.

It was the first event of its kind at the Shawnee Police Department, and Officer Roman Madrigal, who helped coordinate it, said the officers plan to make it a regular part of their community outreach programming.

“For a first-time event, I think it went really well,” he said.

Madrigal said Sgt. Craig Herrmann and the police department’s designated mental health co-responder with the Johnson County Mental Health Center had each thought separately of the idea for the event. Their experience collaborating on event details helped prepare the space for the comfort of their visitors by providing low light and noise and minimizing distractions.

Two visitors tried on tactical unit vests with one of the police officers and also took a tour of the department’s booking room. Photo submitted by Roman Madrigal

“It occurred to us that this was a community that probably was not afforded the same opportunities, or was unwilling or unable to come out to some of our regular events because of the amount of people and the noise and the distraction, which would make it difficult if not impossible to do that,” Madrigal said.

The department scheduled time slots for visitors in order to minimize overlap. Each of the roughly 30 visitors, parents and caretakers was assigned a police officer to give tours and show them the vehicles and equipment.

“That’s part of the issue: There’s too many people at some of the big events that we have,” Madrigal said. “This was going to be more personalized.”

The five officers volunteering for the event also avoided blasting the sirens unless the guests were interested in hearing them. Some of the visits were fairly short — about 15 minutes — but Madrigal said many of the parents and caretakers could tell the visitors were enjoying it.

One of the visitors, a 22-year-old man named Levi who has cerebral palsy, was able to move from his wheelchair to try out the motorcycle with Traffic Officer Mike Saylor. He also posed with the department’s K9 photo cutout.

“It really was all positive,” Madrigal said of the feedback from participants. “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.”