Window decal for special needs families unveiled

Maribel Leos and her husband Cameron County Sheriff’s Deputy Victor Leos stand together as Leos speaks on the importance of collaboration between the sheriff’s office and Down By The Border, a non-profit advocacy organization for special needs individuals, during a press conference Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

The Cameron County Sheriff’s Office unveiled a window decal Tuesday for families of children and adults with special needs in an effort to ease interaction with officers in case their vehicle gets pulled over.

At a news conference Sheriff Eric Garza said the decals represent a collaboration between the special needs community, his office and law enforcement generally.

“As a law enforcement agency it is vital that our officers have as much information as possible when approaching an unknown situation. Having friends and family that have children with special needs, I’m aware that meltdowns can escalate quickly. …These decals allow officers to their job better by minimizing conflict and maximizing the ability to serve and protect.”

The sticker states that an occupant may have special needs. The message is embossed over a sheriff’s badge and underneath a logo for the Down by the Border special needs advocacy organization.

Families can register for the decals at the Cameron County Courthouse, at the sheriff’s office in Olmito and the substation in Harlingen, Garza said

The decal is intended to be placed at the top left of a vehicle’s rear window so that an officer making a stop will easily see it, Sergio Zarate of Down by the Border said.

Zarate said being pulled over can be traumatic for a special needs individual, sometimes triggering reactions that can escalate.

“With this decal you will be able to automatically know there may be an individual with special needs in this vehicle. They’re displaying different kinds of things that they normally do that to you it may seem different but to us it’s part of life,” Zarate said. “The officer doesn’t have to wonder. The sticker goes on the back window in the upper left.”

Cameron County Sheriff’s deputy Victor Leos, the department’s training officer, and his wife Maribel, said the program will be a great help to families like theirs with special needs children.

Garza said the data base with which officers interact will now be able to include designation that a special needs individual could be involved.

“It was kind of collaborative. It started about two months ago when we started discussing that we wanted to do this,” he said. “Once we figured out that our systems could handle it without any additional cost to implement, we went ahead.”