Teddy Cops program encourages Katy ISD special needs children

Police officers can be intimidating to special needs children, so Luis Santiago, Katy Independent School District police officer, is changing that, one teddy bear at a time.

In a surprise Teddy Cop visit to a classroom at Wolman Elementary on Thursday, October 8, Santiago presented students with teddy bears that wore blue police uniforms. The Teddy Cop program began in 2015. Since then, Santiago has distributed more than 2,100 bears. He said police uniforms can scare children, and working to get past that fear is important. He took a knee as he handed out the bears and explained that police officers are friends.

“If we can teach them not to be afraid of the person in the uniform, we just made their life easier and made the officer’s life easier because now we’re learning about autism, how to interact with children with autism, how to communicate,” Santiago said.

He explained that he is the grandfather of a special needs child and that several years back he met a young special needs student in a school that was instantly friendly to him. Afterward, he made sure to say hello each day and developed a friendship. Out of those relationships, came the idea for Teddy Cop.


During his free time, Santiago sews each of the police uniforms and dresses them so the bears will be ready to report for duty in the arms of a grateful child. Once the bears are ready, the Katy ISD Police Department allows Santiago the time to take them to schools.

He always carries a few bears in his police car at any given moment because he never knows when he will encounter a child that needs one. Once during his work, he met a young girl in a wheelchair and was able to present her with the new friend. Santiago said sometimes, a special needs child will wander off from campus. If he is nearby, he will show up with a bear to try to help.

Schools where students receive the bears usually have fundraisers to cover the costs. One example is a special pajama day, where students donate a dollar and get to wear pajamas to school.

In the times of COVID-19, Santiago has added matching blue masks to the Teddy Cop bears to show that like police officers, masks are also there for their good. “The mask teaches them that, hey, this is here to protect you. We wear it. You wear it. Everybody stays safe,” he said.

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