LIVINGSTON, NJ — Officer Kevin Mullaney of Livingston’s Community Policing Unit recently visited the iStrive Saturday program and spoke about police community outreach.
The group participating in iStrive—an acronym for Socialization, Transition, Relationship building, Independence, Vocational and Emotional intelligence—is comprised of well-functioning individuals on the autistic spectrum who are 18 years and older and aging out of other services. The iStrive members spent the morning following Mullaney’s activities on a two-way radio and watched at the window as he approached their building.
Directors Vicki Semel and Patricia Bratt along with iStrive administrators Lisa Thomas and George Grant greeted Mullaney and introduced him to the iStrive members.
Mullaney, a member of the S.W.A.T. emergency service team as well as a community outreach officer, led an informative and humorous discussion on how to call for help in an emergency, how to shelter in place, ways to handle a bully and the best way for these individuals to introduce themselves if they are approached by a police officer.
Explaining that law enforcers have autism training and understand many of the issues and behaviors associated with it, Mullaney urged the group members to tell an approaching officer that they have autism. He also explained that the police department’s role is to take care of all individuals within the community.
According to Mullaney, Livingston residents are able to register themselves and their children at the police station so that the police are aware of which homes have occupants with special needs.
“We have Police/Autism programs and often host organizations and schools at the police department,” said Mullaney, who has spoken to many populations on behalf of the Livingston Police Department. “I typically give them a tour of the police station, explain the many facets of a police officer's job and also answer their questions. Often these conversations and initiatives lead to a deeper understanding of each other.”
In response to inquiries from adult group about job opportunities at the police department, Mullaney explained what the police officers do, the jobs of the support staff and some of the volunteer opportunities within the department.
“The main message that I hope to project is that police officers are your friends, they are here to help and they are human just like you,” said Mullaney. “Police officers feel fear, make mistakes and do not know everything. I encourage the students to be clear and friendly when interacting with police officers, but to also remain aware that we often arrive at a situation without knowing what is fully going on.
“By communicating with us clearly and patiently, we are able to obtain a better understanding of what or who we are dealing with. I want the students to walk away feeling comfortable with the police.”
He invited the iStrive members to visit the police department to observe the daily operations there. He also encouraged them to volunteer at Livingston’s National Night Out, a community event held annually on the first Tuesday of August.
Mullaney saved the most exciting part of his visit for the end, when everyone accompanied him outside to take a look at his special police vehicle. The group enjoyed learning about all the high-tech instrumentation.
“Programs like this one are the reason why I became a police officer,” said Mullaney. “Our goal as police officers is to serve and get to know our community. I greatly enjoyed interacting with the students. I walked away from this program very impressed by everyone's knowledge and enthusiasm. I feel that I made an instant group of friends and I cannot wait to see them again.
“Ultimately, these partnerships are what police work is all about. We want to know our community and to also instill a sense of faith and trust in our community.”
Mullaney added that the iStrive group was “all smiles” when he visited, which is what the officers are looking for when they interact with the community.
“It's a nice day when people are happy to see you,” he said. “I also felt that I walked away with much more knowledge about the special needs community. It was a process of mutual education and understanding.”
Click HERE to learn more information about iStrive.