CRANFORD - A forward-thinking police officer, a generous Cranford-based business, and the Police Department’s Community Outreach Unit combined efforts to create and deploy “Sensory Communication Kits” in all primary radio cars in Cranford.

According to the release, Officer John Rattigan, a 16-year veteran of the force and paramedic, saw the value in providing officers with a kit comprised of self-soothing tools, ear protection, eye protection, and whiteboards to be used during crisis situations in which hypo and hyper-sensitivities may affect an officer’s interaction with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After he assembled a prototype and pitched the idea to the organization, the Cranford Police Department created an additional seven kits to outfit police vehicles in the Patrol Division, Juvenile Bureau and Community Outreach Unit. One kit will also be housed inside police headquarters.

“The Sensory Communication Kits are intended to improve relationships and mitigate communication barriers between our officers and those individuals in our community who may have an underlying diagnosis involving sensory issues,” said Chief Ryan Greco.

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The Community Outreach Unit, comprised of Lieutenant Matthew Nazzaro and Officer Ali Muhammad, then determined that the kits could benefit from being housed inside clearly identifiable, custom-made bags. After approaching Scott and Donna Marino of Cougar Headquarters in Cranford to discuss design options, Scott and Donna immediately offered to design, produce, and donate all the custom sensory bags towards this initiative.

“Cranford is a special place where we have raised our family and grown our business,” said Donna Marino. “We were thrilled to be a part of this new endeavor and are always on board to help the youth of the Cranford community. It was our pleasure to have partnered with the Cranford Police Department on this latest initiative."

The majority of Cranford Police Officers are Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT) and some officers have advanced training in Juvenile Crisis Intervention Training.

“De-escalation is a major component of modern law enforcement that aids in the peaceful disposition of police-citizen encounters,” Chief Greco added.

Chief Greco applauded Officer Rattigan for this innovative idea, and was encouraged when Officer Muhammad of the Community Outreach Unit spearheaded the effort to make the concept a reality.

“Aside from showing great teamwork, I trust that this initiative demonstrates our officers’ commitment to our Special Needs Community,” said Chief Greco.

In addition to this initiative, the Cranford Police Department actively offers a Special Needs Registry. The Special Needs Registry is designed for residents who may be challenged with developmental disabilities such as Autism, Dementia, Down Syndrome, or other special needs. The program was created to better assist families with loved ones who might be at a higher risk for wandering from home and getting lost. By voluntarily registering, the police will have access to personal information should they encounter an individual who has difficulty speaking or identifying themselves.

For more information about the Special Needs Registry or other Community Outreach Initiatives, please contact Officer Ali Muhammad at a-muhammad@cranfordnj.org or 908-272-8989.