Message from Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – Celebrating Our Differences

During the month of April, hundreds of our sworn personnel will proudly wear a commemorative blue badge on their uniform that prominently features the autism awareness puzzle piece to bring attention to Autism Spectrum Disorder and to support those living with it.

We are in our communities across Harris County every day, and this is a small way to send a big message: We’re here to serve all residents with compassion and understanding.

The distinctive light blue badge with the puzzle piece emblem and engraved words “Help Create a Kinder World” reinforces our promise to do all we can to improve our interactions with residents, including those with a developmental disability or those experiencing a mental health or emotional crisis. It serves as a reminder to residents of what we can accomplish together.

This is the first year of the Blue Badges for Autism Awareness program and the Sheriff’s Office ordered 734 commemorative badges, more than any other law enforcement agency in the nation!

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 54 children has autism. Just this year, deputies responded to more than 1,370 calls for service with a mental health component. Many of those calls involved a person with autism.

Last fall, we launched a new initiative called Project Guardian to help our deputies minimize stress by alerting them in advance that they’re about to interact with a person on the autism spectrum.

The initiative is one of many innovative mental health and outreach programs supporting our patrol deputies and making our neighborhoods better places to live.

A simple interaction with law enforcement could be a traumatic situation for a person with autism. Project Guardian encourages families or caregivers to provide a photo of their loved one and their interests or characteristics, such as whether the person is sensitive to loud noises or finds bright lights upsetting.

The online registry is free and equips deputies with critical information on a person’s special needs and proven calming methods. Families are also given a Project Guardian decal to display on a front window to quickly alert deputies someone is enrolled in the program.

Project Guardian and Project Lifesaver Coordinator Deputy Schubert

For Deputy Schubert, the most rewarding part of her job is speaking with and meeting families. “They all express how grateful they are that we truly care about their loved ones’ well-being,” she said. “Family members share their realistic fears of their child being misunderstood for their actions. A mother once told me, ‘I want people to know that there is more of my son than what meets the eye.’”

Since its launch, we’ve enrolled over 100 participants in the program. Our team follows up on incident reports mentioning autism, informing families of the potential for Project Guardian to be life-changing.

We’ve also helped our friends at Katy Police Department roll out Project Guardian to help individuals with autism in their area. Our Behavioral Health Training Unit shared their experiences and recommendations on how to design a program that is right for their community. We’re talking to other area law enforcement agencies about implementation.

We can’t do this alone. We work closely with advocacy groups, nonprofits, and mental health care centers, such as The Harris Center, NAMI Greater Houston, The Menninger Clinic, Autism Speaks, and Autism Moms of Houston. We’re always learning more about how persons with autism may react or shut down and continue to build on our crucial crisis intervention and de-escalation training.

We encourage you to come together to create a more inclusive community that celebrates our differences.

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