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Cop Helps Teen With Down Syndrome Feel Comfortable With Law Enforcement

Mallory Hamilton’s 19-year-old daughter Harley has Down syndrome and autism, and after an incident at a local movie theater, Hamilton began to wonder what might have happened if the situation escalated and police officers became involved.

Harley Hamilton was at the Tikahtnu Regal Cinemas in Anchorage, Alaska, with her aide, and after she became stressed, theater staffers grew concerned about her behavior and threatened to call the police if she was not removed, according to Alaska Dispatch News (ADN). (Regal Cinemas has not responded to requests for comment from The Mighty regarding the incident.)

Hamilton’s aide helped her out of the theater, but the experienced rattled the teen — and her mother. “You just don’t have any idea as a parent what is going to happen. It’s your worst nightmare,” Mallory Hamilton told ADN.

Fortunately Anchorage has the Crisis Intervention Team, a volunteer training program that helps educate its officers on how to handle individuals with special needs. Officer Matt Fraize, whose daughter also has Down syndrome, is a member of that team, and he and his wife Angie, who is also a cop, had an idea when Hamilton approached them asking for help. Matt Fraize would meet with Harley Hamilton for coffee at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage, and hopefully establish a positive outlook on law enforcement officials.

LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch News Harley Hamilton, a senior at West High living with Down syndrome and autism, meets with Anchorage police officer Matt Fraize at Sagaya City Market on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Hamilton’s mother, Mallory, wanted Harley to meet a police officer so she would learn to trust them in the event they were called to a situation where they would have to interact with her.
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch News

Hamilton has now had two meetings with Fraize, who told The Mighty he’s already seen a positive result.

“Harley asked me to sit right next to her, which her mom told me is very rare,” Fraize told The Mighty. “Harley was really excited to see my police car and she jumped right in the back seat.”

“I see these positive interactions with Harley and others in this community as paving the way for a more accepting and tolerant future for them,” Fraize said.

“I could not have asked for a better experience,” Mallory Hamilton told ADN. “They took the time and gave us the opportunity for peace of mind, which for me is huge.”

Michelle Slape, executive director at International Down Syndrome Coalition (IDSC), told The Mighty in an email:

“With the growing number of adults with Down syndrome living independently, working within the community and having independence, there is a great need for those outside of the Down syndrome community to understand the behaviors and mannerisms of individuals with Down syndrome (and other disabilities). What may be perceived as an aggressive behavior may in fact be a coping behavior when in a stressful situation. As parents, our job is to not only guide our children into becoming independent adults, but to help educate those around them of what Down syndrome is and isn’t. Old stereotypes of Down syndrome are constantly being broken. It is now a matter of helping to educate our communities.

I hope that eventually the Crisis Intervention Team program finds its way to every state.  Not only will it benefit the disability community but society overall. We can only hope that others will follow the lead of the volunteer officers and learn to have compassion for those with disabilities.”

LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch News Harley Hamilton, a senior at West High living with Down syndrome and autism, gives Anchorage police officer Matt Fraize a side hug at Sagaya City Market on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Watching at left is DeVon Brentlinger, one of Harley’s caregivers.
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch News

To read the full story, visit ADN’s website and Facebook page

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

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