Montgomery County Police Officer Laurie Reyes received the Second Annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing on Sept. 18. According to the Office of the Attorney General, the award “recognizes state, local and tribal sworn rank-and-file police officers and deputies for their outstanding work in community policing strategies, criminal investigations, and field operations that have improved our ability to enforce our laws.” The award recognizes the work of 25 law enforcement officers and deputies from 12 jurisdictions across the country.
Officer Laura Blankman is thrilled to see her colleague get this recognition. “This is major,” she said. “Laurie gets the job done and it’s primarily been her that developed the program. It has blossomed into something that’s unlike anywhere in the United States.”
Reyes is the MCPD Autism/intellectual and development disabilities (IDD), Alzheimer’s, dementia outreach coordinator. She said that the MCPD program wonderfully demonstrates everything that the Attorney General’s award represents.
Reyes said that in 2005 the department noticed that they were getting an increased number of calls that involved people with autism, developmental delays, and Alzheimer’s disease—and the calls weren’t just about elopement and wandering. A person might be sitting in a car, having an emotional meltdown, and a call would come in from a citizen thinking they were witnessing a domestic violence incident. Reyes said, “We knew we needed to educate our officers on ways for positive, respectful and safe interaction.”
The program trains all incoming recruits about the issues that people with autism, IDD and Alzheimer’s face, as well as what an officer might encounter with differently abled citizens during their shifts.
This knowledge enables the police force to better understand these situations and respond accordingly. Officer Reyes also trains other members of the community, including Ride On drivers, hospitals and group homes. Most recently, Reyes trained all Montgomery County Public Schools bus drivers.
Reyes touts the department’s layered approach, which focuses on education, outreach, follow-up, response and empowerment.
“With all those pieces comes the empowerment, because you are educated and have to be engaged more—and (you are) more likely to engage effectively,” she said. For example, Reyes said something as simple as using one or two-word commands enables officers to increase the likelihood that they will be understood. She is especially proud of the department’s use of self-advocates (people with autism who are verbal) to teach and present the material from a first-person perspective, giving officers a greater understanding of people who face different challenges on a daily basis.
Five years ago, Reyes and her colleague, Officer Tara Bond, created the MCP Autism/IDD/Alzheimer’s Safety Fair. Held annually, this event is a highlight not only for the police officers, but also for families. The Montgomery County Police Training Academy assumes a festival atmosphere with a moon bounce and pizzas and lots of kids. In this setting, the community is able to meet a police officer, sit in a car, fire truck or rescue boat, pet a horse, and learn that police officers are our friends. The event also features tables of service providers and resources for parents, including guidance from MCP on how to help keep a loved one safe. Officer Reyes recommends having a plan in place to refer to in case of elopement or wandering, and she offers guidance on how to create that plan.
Reyes is proud of the award, but insists that it is not hers alone; she refers often to Bond and Blankman for their contributions to the program and helping to make it such a success. She also is so proud of and energized by the response from her fellow officers, who wholeheartedly engage with the program and love reporting back to her on success stories. “Every day I am amazed,” Reyes said.
The Second Annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing “makes people stand up and take notice,” Reyes said. “Other communities might not have a specific officer dedicated to this arena, but by spreading the word by social media, television appearances, presenting on Capitol Hill and speaking to the Council of Governments, word is getting out about this program and they are making an impact.”
Reyes and team put their own spin on National Coffee with a Cop Day on Oct. 3 at That’s a Wrap in Gaithersburg with “Coffee and a Wrap with a Cop.” The eatery on Darnestown Road employs individuals with developmental disabilities, making it the perfect location for Reyes’ mobile office. She encouraged anyone and everyone to stop by and say hello.
Reflecting back on her 21 years on the police force, Reyes said she wanted to become a police officer because she wanted to help people. “That’s the truth I think that every officer would say.”