Lawrence police paint cruiser blue for autism awareness
Eagle-Tribune - 4/4/2017
April 04--LAWRENCE -- There was a night recently in Lawrence when, just before midnight, a 13-year-old boy with autism got out of his mother's car at a stoplight on Tower Hill and just walked away.
Police immediately began a search for the boy and he was found safe a shortly time later.
But Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said police knew little about the young man, his condition or things that might both trigger and soothe him.
The chief is now hoping to change such situations and building resources for local police officers through the Safe Watch program. It is being rolled out in Lawrence as part of Autism Awareness Month.
On Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to noon, the Police Department at 90 Lowell St. is hosting "Autism Awareness Day" where residents and families can meet police officers and learn more about the Safe Watch Program.
Officers are wearing blue police badges this month to show their support. Police are also rolling out a special blue police cruiser designed to show department-wide support for autism awareness, Fitzpatrick said.
Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors, according to information posted on autismspeaks.org.
Fitzpatrick said the department wants to have the Safe Watch Program in place "for any endangered population such as autistic" residents.
"Anybody we are worried about wondering away," he said.
Officers will be on hand to gather biographical information and enter it into a digital system that can be quickly accessed.
"So we can pull up that information right away," he said.
Police will also work closely with the school system gathering needed information.
To parents, Fitzpatrick said "he knows firsthand what it's like to raise a child with that condition and (their) potential to walk away."
"This is all about improving safety for people who are risk for wondering," he said.
He described the new bright blue cruiser as one of the "older gems" in the department's fleet. Students at Greater Lawrence Technical School did bodywork and painted the car, with paint donated by Delphi Technology Solutions.
Adamson Industries of Haverhill, Brush Stroke Sign Designs of Lawrence and the city's public works also helped with the reinvigoration of the old cruiser.
"Everything was pretty much donated," said Fitzpatrick, noting names of the sponsors adorn the back bumper of the cruiser.
Children can sit in the police cruiser and there will also be tours of the police station.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.
IF YOU GO
* Lawrence Police Autism Awareness Day
* Tuesday, April 4, 10 a.m. to noon, 90 Lowell St.
* Sign up for the LPD's Safe Watch Program
* Meet the chief, officers, sit in a cruiser, tour the police station
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