UM-Flint's Officer Friendly Day promotes positive interactions between autistic people and law enforcement, May 4

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A group of people including volunteers and staff wearing yellow shirts and law enforcement officers pose together on a sunny day on a grassy field.
Staff, student volunteers, and law enforcement officers who took part in Officer Friendly Day 2023.

Free food, police vehicle tours, story time with officers and the opportunity to build an understanding community between individuals with autism, their families, and law enforcement – not a bad way to spend a Saturday.  

Now in its third year, Officer Friendly Day will offer local law enforcement officers yet another opportunity to enhance their skills in serving people with autism in the community. The annual event occurs on May 4, 1-3 p.m., in parking lot S of the William S. White Building, located at the corner of Saginaw Street and Fifth Ave. in downtown Flint. 

Most of the interactions that autistic people have with law enforcement are related to public safety calls and not illegal activity. Still, a lack of exposure and experience on both sides of the equation can result in interactions escalating into dangerous situations.

Two women pose with a man in a grassy field, marquee tents and other displays are featured behind them.
Sreckovic (left) and Kenney (right) with Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley (center) during Officer Friendly Day 2023.

"Over the past few years, we've been working with local agencies to improve training related to people with autism," said Melissa Sreckovic, UM-Flint associate professor of education and one of the event's coordinators. "Officers shared with us that they would like to meet more autistic people so they can learn from them and be better prepared to keep them safe during any crisis events in the future. That's how Officer Friendly Day came about."

As the event grows year over year, the planning team has expanded the activities and experiences available to the community.

"One of the biggest developments this year is the addition of a calm tent," said co-organizer Christine Kenney, an associate professor of teaching and learning at Grand Valley State University. "The tent will have three walls, comfortable seating and flooring, and gives anyone who might be overstimulated by the environment a chance to take a beat and relax."

Parents and children sitting in a grassy field while a police officer reads to them. A large building is in the background with a cloudy sky.
Officer Nickoy Edwards reads to parents and children attending Officer Friendly Day 2023.

Also new this year are games and activities geared toward adolescents and adults with autism and the opportunity for parents with children on the spectrum to experience a simulated pullover.

"Similar to the training video we created last year that simulated a traffic stop between an officer and an adult with autism, we made a video that simulates a traffic stop for parents with autistic children in the car," Laura Martin, program manager of K-12 partnerships at UM-Flint and another co-organizer, said. "I volunteered to do it because I have a 9-year-old son with autism. Interacting with police can be unnerving for everyone involved, so the more exposure we have, the better. 

"One of the significant issues for parents of autistic children is that if their child manages to run away, they might be embarrassed to call for help because they don't want to be judged, or they are scared that the situation might escalate. Events like Officer Friendly Day allow us to create relationships with our local police so that we feel confident to call upon them for help in the future."

CarolAnn Lessnau, a 2024 UM-Flint graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology, is also on the planning committee. Lessnau, who is autistic, starred in the training video the team produced last year and was invited to join the team for this year's event.

"I encourage everyone to attend Officer Friendly Day, even if they're not on the spectrum," Lessnau said. "If you're neurodivergent at all — ADHD or OCD, for example — or even if you're just plain nervous around police officers, this event is for you! It's a casual, fun, low-pressure environment and a great way to create relationships with local police."

Two female volunteers play and a young girl play with toy blocks on a table with a blue tablecloth, located outside in a grassy field.
Education majors Angela Everhart, left, and Andrea Marlett play with an attendee during Officer Friendly Day 2023.

Another significant development this year is QR code bracelets, provided by event sponsor Security Credit Union.

"Everyone who joins us will leave with a ton of information and resources they can use to keep themselves and others safe," Sreckovic said. "Each resource bag has tips on how to interact with law enforcement, autism disclosure cards, ID tags for backpacks, and QR code bracelets, which they can set up with their preferred contact information and other details."

Ray Hall, director of public safety at UM-Flint, and Heather Bromley, a UM-Flint police lieutenant, round out Officer Friendly Day's planning team. 

"Building 'Communities of Care' for youth on the spectrum takes all of us working together," Hall said. "Officer Friendly Day is a great start, but we have much more work to do to ensure a truly inclusive community."

In addition to this year's new features, the event offers food, police vehicle tours, games and activities, story time with officers, mock pullovers and more.

  • Young Officer Friendly Day attendees talking with a police officer behind a table.

For more information about the event and to RSVP, visit

Kat Oak is the communications specialist for the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education. She can be reached via email at [email protected].