By Jennifer McGraw

VACAVILLE (CBS13) – The Vacaville Police Department is reaching out to families with special needs to help better serve the community and it’s making a big difference.

“Anything that we can do to help the special-needs community to feel safe with the police department and the fire and rescue, it will only improve the system,” said Nicole Neff of Vacaville, whose daughter Rayna has special needs. 

A family outing for the Neff family isn’t exactly easy.

“Rayna has autism and intellectual disability and another syndrome called Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome,” said Nicole.

Rayna is a happy and healthy 9 year old, but with her special needs, it makes things more challenging.

“We are always afraid we’re going to disturb people at the movies,” she said.

That experience all changed Sunday night when the Nicole, her husband, Chris, and their two children, Rayna and Nathan, went to Brenden Theaters and saw a movie with 20 other families who all have children with disabilities.

“We wanted to be able to give families opportunity to go to a movie for the first time,” said officer Jeremy Johnson, a nine-year veteran as an officer.

He’s working to strengthen the ties between the force and the special-needs community. Something near to his heart.

“I have a 5-year-old son who is autistic,” he said.

Johnson knew there was a need to help these families, especially during emergencies, so he started the “Puzzle Project,” allowing residents to register their special-needs family members into the police database.

The database includes “that person’s name, date of birth, and that they are autistic so officers know that going into there,” he said.

It’s exactly what the Neffs say they need.

“This is going to be such a lifesaver for all of our families…to be able to track them to know that each house has a special kiddo or even adult,” Nicole said.

Chris and Nicole said it’s been a challenging journey that started nine years ago, but with more education and understanding from the community, it will help these families with disabilities.

“Because of Reyna, our eyes have opened.  We see everything in a different light now,” Nicole said.

Officer Johnson hopes to have the Puzzle Project up and running by the end of the month.


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