The Officer and Harley: A Lesson in Kindness
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Your child is off somewhere in the world without you and something goes wrong. With children who have developmental disabilities or mental illness, something is bound to go wrong at some point. So you craft action plans. You practice what to do. You get their care providers on the same page. You hope your action plan will work if and when needed. Many times it will. But there’s always the possibility that one time, in some ordinary place doing some ordinary thing, something will go awry. Then what?
The Anchorage Police Department has a volunteer training program to help its officers make the best possible decisions when encountering people with autism, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, depression or any other condition that can affect a person’s behavior and how well he or she might respond to police.
For parents, the worst nightmare isn’t the meltdown. It’s how other people will react, and then how your child will react to them. Will the others -- store clerks, passersby, waiters, managers -- be well-meaning helpers who unknowingly muck things up even more? Or maybe they will be disrupters and increase stress and tension as they try to firmly get matters under control. What then? What if the police show up and rattle off a bunch of questions or issue orders at your child, who can’t handle being addressed in that way? Will your child run off? Lash out? What if an officer tries to put their hands on your child, who cannot tolerate touch?
The worst nightmare is that someone will get hurt.
Loren Holmes / ADN
Hamilton asked a friend, Angie Fraize, an Anchorage police officer who serves with her on the Governor’s Council for Disabilities and Special Education, what to do. Fraize helped coordinate a coffee date for Harley with her husband, Matt, who is also an Anchorage police officer. The goal? Get Harley to understand police as helpers, as safe people she can trust.
“The face of law enforcement is changing with the times. But we have to. We have to show people that we are human. That we are dads and moms,” Angie Fraize said over coffee last week. She grew up with an uncle who had Down syndrome, and one of her two daughters has the condition.
Matt Fraize, a large man who once played football for the University of Washington, showed up in uniform to the coffee date with Harley. He asked if he could sit with Harley and her mother, who suggested, “Harley would love for a handsome man in uniform to sit across from her.”
Harley hugged officer Fraize, beaming during the half-hour visit that ended with a ride home, without Mom, in the police car. During a second meeting, Harley tried to tickle officer Fraize, nuzzled his side, gave a friendly head-butt and a quick kiss to his right shoulder before they walked over to his patrol car, holding hands.
“A lot of us are parents of kids with special needs. And so we get it. We have the same fears for our children,” Matt Fraize said.
Heroes like Officer Fraize need all the good publicity they can get. This is a wonderful program.