In the most recent installment of Coffee with a Cop, the Waxahachie Police Department promoted a new program that better assists individuals with disabilities and who may need extra help communicating in an emergency situation.
Since May, Waxahachie Police community services officer O.T. Glidewell has spearheaded the initiative to document persons who are non-verbal or are affected by Intellectual Developmental Disabilities.
Through the Guardian Program, Waxahachie residents can provide information to the Safe Return Program registry that allows first responders access to critical information that is designed to help safely reunite families of registered participants.
During Wednesday's Coffee with a Cop, residents of Daymark Living in Waxahachie joined WPD at Fresh Market Coffee to better understand the Guardian Program.
Glidewell first expressed he was extremely pleased to see 29 forms filled out by Daymark residents. Mark Richards, Daymark executive director, even mentioned that the registry will eventually be required during the intake process for residents.
Richards heard about a similar program in the Dallas-area and expressed he was thrilled when he heard it was being implemented locally.
"What I really like about the program is that obviously for our population, they think and respond differently and are sometimes unaware of the ways a police officer interprets their actions," Richards said.
The discussion to launch the program began after parents of children with autism communicated to the department that a program like this would be beneficial.
Glidewell then noted a November 2018 case that involved a non-verbal child walking in the 100 block of Bison Meadow around 7 a.m.
"The guys were trying to identify him and locate his parents but couldn't do it," Glidewell explained. "Three hours had gone by, and we were unable to locate anybody."
"That's all we could do was just wait. And, you would be surprised how many times its happened where kids get out," he added. "We had a situation where one kid got out at five or six in the morning, and the parents didn't call until 11 [a.m.]."
Glidewell expressed posting a child's face or information on social media is not a favorable tactic but is sometimes utilized as a last resort.
Waxahachie officers are already trained to interact with individuals who live with IDD, and four officers on the force underwent specific mental health training.
"This kind of expands on it to make sure that everyone is safe," Glidewell emphasized.
Similar programs have been incorporated around the state under different names. The Plano Police Department implemented the "Take Me Home" program that was developed by the Pensacola Florida Police Department.
"This kind of assistance may be necessary if the individual is unable to speak or properly identify themselves, or if they become disoriented, or act in a manner that could be misinterpreted by first responders," reads the Plano Police website.
Information provided through enrollment is stored in a secure record database.
Age groups, residency, physical characteristics and ethnicity help the system narrow down the search on individuals in the registry. One recommendation for those submitting information about a child or adult is to include an up-to-date photo.
Participation in the Guardian Program is voluntary and free.
To be eligible to submit an application, the participant or guardian must be a resident of Waxahachie, attend school within WPD jurisdiction, may be unable to communicate essential information due to a diagnosed medical disorder or be prone to wander away or run away from guardians, residence or school due to a diagnosed medical disorder.
The enrollment form can be found at Waxahachie.com under the police department category under the "Departments" tab. Information and a link to fill out the application can be found under the "Guardian Program" located on the left sidebar.