Norwich police team takes on water challenge to raise autism awareness

Norwich - You don't have to tune into TV Land to watch "The A-Team."

It exists, albeit in a different form, right here in The Rose City - the midnight shift of the Norwich Police Department.

The moniker was given to the team by recently retired Sgt. Patrick Mickens for the 20 or so men and women who protect the city while most are asleep.

"The midnight shift is a pretty tight group," said Bob Jackson, a dispatcher. "I don't know how to explain it other than there is a camaraderie there. The hours are hard and while we don't have the call volume as the other shifts do ... when something happens, it's usually something big."

It was in that spirit of camaraderie that Jackson felt compelled to do something after seeing all of the Ice Bucket challenges to benefit ALS.

But Jackson wanted to do something a little different. He wanted to get emergency responders involved, and he thought it should bring awareness to a local or state organization that does good work.

Jackson said he went to shift commander Sgt. Chris Conley with his idea and got Conley's support to get the rest of the team on board.

Jackson soon decided on bringing awareness to Autism Services & Resources Connecticut in Wallingford. He learned about the developmental disorder through his daughter, Alyssa, whose best friend has autism.

He learned about ASRC from midnight shift Patrol Officer John Tangney, who was a member of the organization's board and has used their services on and off throughout the years to help his 12-year-old son, Michael, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 3.

"It is a way to show support for not only a good cause, but it is one that touches us deeply as one of our own has a son with autism," said Conley. "It's just positive in every way. We are all one department, but the midnight shift tends to be close."

Jackson decided to call the challenge Public Safety for Autism. He said the city's Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato is also on board. At 10 a.m. Saturday at the fire department headquarters on North Thames Street, a fire truck will be used to hose the past and current members of the midnight shift.

Jackson will then challenge Capt. James Merrithew of the North Haven Police Department to rally his A-Team; Merrithew just doesn't know about it yet, Jackson said.

Tangney said he was touched by Jackson's gesture.

"This is my second family," said Tangney. "You spend so many hours here, and we talk about each other's families and what we are all going through."

He said Michael is thriving, goes to school, excels in math and loves science. But he does have a hard time picking up on social cues, making it harder for him to understand body language or how to respond appropriately to certain social situations.

"I think it's a great idea," said Tangney. "Anything that brings awareness to what these kids and their families face is just so important. Sometimes when we go to a store and he acts up and screams, you get funny looks. They don't understand that sometimes it's just hard for him. It's not his fault."

Jackson conceived his idea weeks ago, before the Ferguson, Mo., protests of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer on Aug. 9. While he hopes people will learn more about ASRC and donate to them, if the challenge helps people see the softer side of the officers, then that would be an added bonus, too.

"I see how many wonderful things the police department does and no one will ever hear about it," said Jackson. "They do things that go unrecognized."

Conley added, "We are people, too. We all have families and children. We're doing our jobs and are trying to protect people. ? (Events) like these show that we care about things that are also outside the job."
Twitter: @larraneta

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