Feathered friend gives safety tips to kids

LESLIE SOWERS Staff
FRI 11/15/1985 HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section Lifestyle, Page 4, NO STAR Edition

Trust the Los Angeles Police Department to sign on a trained blue and gold South American macaw as a safety officer. He's Officer Byrd to his friends, about 150,000 kids in the Los Angeles area where Byrd got his start.

This Beverly Hills cop goes after birdnappers, jail birds, stool pigeons and other feathery felons, says Officer Mike Simonsen. Simonsen is Officer Byrd's partner. The two of them put on quite a show, teaching schoolchildren about safety.

Tonight the pair will be part of the act at the reception and dinner for the Drugbuster Charity Pro/Celebrity Tennis Spectacular at the Woodlands. They also will be on hand throughout the weekend. Proceeds from the affair, sponsored by the Children's Drug Abuse Network, World Championship Tennis and The Entertainment Industries Council Inc., will benefit CDAN, a Houston organization dedicated to preventing drug and alcohol abuse by children.

In a pre-event demonstration, Officer Byrd rides his own spiffy racer to reinforce Simonsen's bicycle safety tips. While Byrd pushes along on the world's only bird-sized skateboard, Simonsen explains how to avoid accidents and pedestrians. He says it was especially difficult for Byrd to learn to skateboard since he has nothing to hold onto. He can travel much faster on his old-fashioned scooter.

Byrd then does a convincing antilitter act, depositing his tiny soft drink bottle in a bird-sized trash can. Simonsen jokes and says at the Beverly Hills substation they're so ritzy they serve Perrier. Byrd tosses this bottle, too.

Simonsen, who served on street beats for his first five years, knew he needed an attention-getting gimmick for his safety presentations. For one thing, the kids were tuning him out. For another, their image of the police officer had incorporated all the violence of the TV cop.

When he saw how enthusiastically children responded to the trained birds at an amusement park, he decided to give that a try. He trained Officer Byrd himself in his off-duty hours, but it didn't take long before he and Byrd were assigned to full-time community relations duty.

His presentations have been very successful, Simonsen believes, because children are familiar with animal heroes like the dog Scooby-Doo. He says they relate to Byrd as a hero, and says other law enforcement officers in California are bringing animals into their acts.

Simonsen includes drugs in his act. When he can see that Byrd has won the affection of his audience, Simonsen asks the macaw if he should take drugs. He shakes his fluffy head in the negative. When Simonsen then asks the children if they should take drugs, they follow Byrd's example with a resounding no. Officer Byrd has conveyed the message that it's OK to say no.

It's ironic and sad that children get their first bicycle safety tips at the same age they need education about the danger of using drugs. But children between the ages of 8 and 14 are the fastest-growing user age group.

For this reason, CDAN targets its substance abuse education efforts to this age group. It's why the organization, headed by Marilu Rumfulo, brought Officer Byrd to Houston.

Byrd won't be playing tennis, though if he can learn to skate and ride a bicycle it seems likely he would have a decent serve. Stars who will be playing include fitness expert Denise Austin and Tim Reid and Daphney Maxwell, both of CBS' "Simon and Simon".

The tennis tournament is a fund-raising event for CDAN, a non-profit organization incorporated in January 1984. CDAN concentrates its efforts on developing educational materials such as a computerized bilingual program on substance abuse housed in the Museum of Medical Science and relaxation tapes for adolescents.

The tapes are designed to help teen-agers reduce the stress that may lead them to seek drugs for relief. The goal is to teach them to feel good in a natural way, says Iris Newman, therapist with CDAN.

CDAN has also established a drug referral service for corporations. It offers three free consultations with a psychotherapist. The abuser is diagnosed and referred to an appropriate program or therapist for further help. CDAN is not a drug treatment program itself.

The Drugbuster tournament fund-raising event will be held this weekend at the Woodlands. A dinner and show will begin at 8:30 this evening, featuring film, TV and sports personalities and Officer Byrd. Tennis will be played 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, Ticketron and Joske's. For further information, call 621-0090.

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