Buckeye Police Officer Hector Vargas

Buckeye Police Officer Hector Vargas and Wigwam Creek Middle School student Callie Peperissa were present for the safety event.

The Litchfield Elementary School District hosted a safety event that allowed children with autism spectrum disorder and Tourette’s syndrome to engage with law enforcement officials at Wigwam Creek Middle School in Litchfield Park on April 7.

Event organizers hoped the event would make children feel more comfortable around public safety personnel. The Buckeye Police Department mistook a 14-year-old boy with autism for a drug user last summer.

The event featured videos that recalled safety laws of driving, use of first responders, gaining trust in law enforcement, “never run from the police” motto, always keep hands visible, never touch any part of an officer including his equipment, what to do when encountering a working K-9, reenactments and games like Jeopardy and Simon Says.

“What a great turnout for this life-changing event for our community,” said Carisa Sharrett, special education teacher and peer tutoring program adviser for Wigwam Creek Middle School.

“It was so amazing to get so many different departments together and have so many officer, parent, student and staff participants the first time around. It was such a wonderful accomplishment.”

Karen Watson, event assistant and parent to Nicholas Watson, who has ASD, said the program was “near and dear to my heart.”

“It is important that our special needs children know that law enforcement are just here to help them and how to appropriately interact with police,” she said.

Five law enforcement agencies were represented, including the Avondale, Buckeye, Glendale and Goodyear police departments, along with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

“I thought it was a great and fun event,” said Lt. Jason DeHaan of the Goodyear Police Department.

“I was a little nervous in the beginning because I was not sure what to expect, but it ended up being a very educational and beneficial event for both the students and law enforcement to gain perspective and understanding in our processes and why we are required to do what we do.”

Verrado High School’s life skills teacher Don Duplin called the event a great precursor to preparing students with disabilities for high school.

“It is crucial to implement these skills with how to interact with law enforcement properly as the students are getting ready to enter high school and then become adults,” he said.

For more information about the event’s content, visit besafethemovie.com.