Queen Creek officers carry sensory calming tools to help with mental health calls

Some officers at the Queen Creek Police Department are using new sensory tools to help during calls with people with special needs.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 3:28 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

QUEEN CREEK, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Crisis and mental health calls are becoming increasingly more common across police departments in the Valley. Queen Creek is the latest city to carry specific sensory tools, thanks to one officer who used her own experience as a mom to a boy with special needs. The Queen Creek police chief says the kits can potentially save lives.

Sensory tools can be critical in soothing children or anyone who gets overwhelmed in stressful situations. “I have a son that has an IEP, and the classroom setting is not conducive for learning for him,” said Officer Rachel de la Torre. “So I actually purchased the calm strips, actually thinking this would help him.”

When she saw success with her son, she began carrying sensory strips in her police vehicle. “These sensory kits help us with our soft skills. So as a crisis intervention officer, we want to connect and find what is the thing putting this person in crisis,” she said.

Within a week, she was dispatched to a call where a tool allowed her to connect with a nonverbal man in crisis. “Communication isn’t always going to be eye contact and words and speaking. Sometimes when people are nonverbal, they need something tangible or a tool they can focus on, and then from there they can see your intentions are good and you want to help them,” Officer de la Torre said.

Queen Creek Police Chief Randy Brice knows about this well because he’s also a parent of two special needs children. “I’m very familiar with this, but for some reason, it didn’t dawn on me that we could do the same thing at work,” he said.

Once he heard about Officer de la Torre’s success, he knew he wanted everyone in the field to have similar kits. “Often times we’re called to a situation where we’re in the middle of a crisis. So we want to find ways to de-escalate those situations and with our special needs community; just our presence tends to ramp things up so we came up with an alternative,” he explained.

There’s one kit for each officer on shift, and all they have to do is check out a kit when they get to work. Chief Brice says something so simple can make all the difference. “As a parent, that gives me great comfort that when my officers interact with my child, or any other child with special needs, that they’re going to be safe and well taken care of,” he said.

Officers in Queen Creek are autism certified, and they’re also certified to help those who are hard of hearing and deaf. Chief Brice says it’s part of their mission to find ways to connect with everyone in their community.