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It's graduation day for police safety academy

Pilot program helps people with disabilities protect themselves

SUBMITTED - Andy Gardner, of Tigard, checks out the inside of a Washington County Sheriff's Office patrol car as part of the Westside Crime Prevention Coalition's safety academy, which wrapped up this week at Beaverton Police Department.This week, several Washington County law enforcement agencies wrapped up a month-long pilot program working with people with developmental disabilities.

Since April, about a dozen adults with developmental disabilities have been meeting at the Beaverton Police Department to learn how to keep themselves safe from others who might want to harm them.

Known as the “Safety Academy,” the free program was put on by the Westside Crime Prevention Coalition as a way to help people with developmental disabilities better understand how police operate and ways to protect themselves.

“We want adults with disabilities to see through the badge,” Tigard Police spokesman Jim Wolf told The Times in April. “They should know how to approach police and know that a police officer is their go-to person if they are ever in a situation that needs our help. They can trust us and know that they can come to us to get help or answers, or just to visit and be friendly.”

The Westside Crime Prevention Coalition is made up of representatives from the Beaverton, Hillsboro and Tigard police departments as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

Classes were taught by police officers and crime prevention specialists, covering everything from preventing fraud and identity theft to pedestrian safety and how to interact with police officers.

Many of the students in the program live alone or in group homes, hold regular jobs and rely on public transportation.

Monday’s graduation included two K-9 officers and their four-legged partners from the Beaverton Police Department; they were on hand to give a demonstration, but also shared important information about how to approach a K-9 officer out in the community — ask permission first, Wolf said, since the dogs are likely working and can't be disturbed.

The 10 participants were given certificates for completing the course.

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett handed out certificates at the graduation, along with Beaverton Police Chief Geoff Spalding, Hillsboro Police Chief Lee Dobrowolski and Tigard’s Assistant Chief of Police Jim De Sully.

The classes began last month, Wolf said, after the coalition’s members realized how few positive opportunities there were for people with developmental disabilities to interact with police.

“There may be some hesitation by folks who maybe require assistance from law enforcement, but would they feel comfortable doing so? And if they did, how would they do so?” Wolf said on Tuesday, May 5. “It works on a platform of being very approachable with law enforcement. It’s that kind of openness and transparency between the public and ourselves that law enforcement wants, and we want anybody within the community to feel comfortable interacting with police. That is a priority.”

Wolf said that the Coalition agreed shortly after the pilot program’s launch that they would hold more classes in the future.

“The information that is provided is extremely helpful and it goes to reduce their vulnerability both at home and when they are moving about the community,” Wolf said.

No dates have been set for the next round of classes, but Wolf said they would likely be held as early as this fall.

For more information on the program, contact Brandi Gilbert, crime prevention specialist at the Hillsboro Police Department, at 503-615-6785 or email brandi.gilbert@hillsboro-oregon.gov.

By Geoff Pursinger
email: gpursinger@commnewspapers.com
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