The Lynnwood Police Department welcomed 45 families to the Community Life Center last weekend for its first annual Cops for Inclusion event. The goal was to create a welcoming and safe environment for children on the autism spectrum to learn more about police and ways they help the community.
Children and parents were able to meet police officers, climb into cop cars, meet K9 Chase and watch the police drone in action, as well as learn about pedestrian safety, fingerprinting and what’s on police vests.
To create a space where all children felt safe, the police department dedicated the first and last hour of the event as quiet hours, where none of the equipment was turned on to accommodate those with sensory issues.
Lynnwood Police Sgt. Justin Gann said this event hit close to home for him as he has a nephew on the autism spectrum. In addition, Gann got to work closely with his brother, Brandon Gann, a licensed behavioral analyst.
“We’re always looking for ways to connect with members of the community,” Justin said. “And we always want to include everybody. So we started thinking: How can we make this successful? What would this [event] look like?”
When someone proposed bringing in behavioral professionals, Justin Gann immediately suggested his brother, who works with AESOP Behavioral Science. From there, he said the police department and AESOP were a perfect match.
“We didn’t really run into any barriers,” he said. “And when we did, having specialists with us helped us navigate those barriers.”
Brandon agreed, stating that the police department was “so inclusive and cooperative. They really wanted to make sure we’re meeting the needs of families [in the community] with children with autism.”
The goal was to ensure the event would be more than a simple meet and greet. Working with children on the spectrum for the past 19 years, Brandon said he wanted children to be able to interact and engage with items police officers use on a daily basis.
“We want kids to see something, touch something, leave with something and learn something,” he said.
Both Gann brothers said they hoped Cops for Inclusion would help families and children become more comfortable with police when they see them in public.
“This is a way for us to interact with people on a non-emergency level,” Justin said. “We want them to know we are part of the community and we’re out there to help. We’re hoping these kids will realize we aren’t there to hurt them and that they shouldn’t be scared of us.”
Brandon said he’s thrilled to see the Lynnwood Police Department working to include all members of the community.
“People with autism typically get left out of community events,” he said. “We hope this will create better communication and engagement with police.”
In addition to meeting with children on the spectrum, Lynnwood officers also underwent special training for improving their interactions with community members who have autism.
“We asked: How can we get to know [these community members] when they’re younger?” Lynnwood police spokesperson Joanna Small asked. “How can we potentially make future interactions better?”
According to Small, Police Chief Jim Nelson came up with the idea for Cops for Inclusion after reading comments from parents on social media explaining that they couldn’t sign their children up for the Police Youth Camp because they were on the spectrum and would be too overwhelmed by the chaos.
Small said activity station ideas were agreed upon based on what children might have questions about. The department wanted activities that children could interact with to help familiarize them with things they might eventually see in real life. Officers were also standing by to answer any questions children or parents might have.
Chief Nelson said he’s glad to see the amount of community support generated by the event. Lynnwood’s QFC, Trader Joe’s and other community outlets donated snacks and supplies to help the event.
“It’s great to see so many people coming together to make this work,” Nelson said. “I’m happy to be here.”
The Gann brothers said they hope Cops for Inclusion becomes an annual event that community members are excited to attend.
“This event was super beneficial to us,” Justin Gann said. “This is how you build community.”
— Story and photos By Lauren Reichenbach