WEST LIBERTY, Iowa (KWWL) — Uniforms at the West Liberty Police Department are a bit more colorful but with a purpose.
Officers are wearing new autism awareness patches on their uniforms decorated with different colored puzzle pieces. The puzzle symbolism was adopted in 1999 for autism awareness. Puzzles represent the complexity of the autism spectrum.
The month of April is Autism Awareness Month and the officers will wear them through the month. The second day of the month is also World Autism Awareness Day.
West Liberty Police Chief Kary Kinmonth said the intention is to spread awareness and to represent everyone in the community.
“I have an officer that has a child that has Asperger’s. It hits close to home with about everybody,” Kinmonth said. “They say 1 in 59 people have autism. I’ve talked to our school and I think we have about 15 kids in our school district that have been identified.”
April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day.
All month long police officers in West Liberty will be wearing these autism awareness patches. More tonight on KWWL News at 10 on how they'll also benefit the UI Stead Family Children's Hospital pic.twitter.com/xGfk66YyEc
— KWWL (@KWWL) April 3, 2019
The department is also selling the patches for $20 a piece. All proceeds will go to the autism unit at the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Since introducing the patches, Kinmonth said the department has seen an enthusiastic response from across the country. The department has been averaging 10 letters a day, he said, from people wanting to get a patch of their own or to thank them for doing it.
One of those letters came from 8-year-old Tanner, of Decorah, who is on the autism spectrum.
“Officers talk to everyone and they take bad people to jail and they work hard on the law every day,” it read, in part.
Before signing his name Tanner wrote, “to police officers, love Tanner. We are good people every day and I love you.”
It’s responses like Tanner’s that makes the department feel good, Kinmonth said.
Kinmonth said he got the idea from another police department in Iowa who made a similar patch years ago.
While shining a light on those in the autism spectrum, he hopes it starts a conversation, too. He said it’s all about building relationships with the community.
“It’s really important for us to reach out to our community members. All of our community members have to feel their important, they are very important to us,” he said. “Anything that we can do that again, can break the ice that can build those relationships that can break down barriers.”
Kinmonth anticipates that they’ve raised $1,000 so far as it just starts to build momentum, they expect to raise more through the month.