License to Thrill

by Karen Lee Stevens
May 7, 2008

Quick: when you hear the numbers “007,” what’s your first thought? If you’re like most people, an image of James Bond pops into your head. After all, the fictional British Secret Service Agent—made famous in twenty-one movies—is synonymous with the identification number 007. But did you know that another well-known crime fighter sports the same moniker? His name is Officer Byrd and he’s a former police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department: Badge #007 (no, really!). Byrd may not be as suave and sexy as his cinematic counterpart, but he is nonetheless a colorful character—some might even say a hero—with a strong sense of purpose.

Officer Byrd began his career early in life and spent many years with the police force. Now retired, the 33-year-old crime stopper and his long-time partner, Officer Mike Simonsen, who is also retired from the LAPD, travel the greater Los Angeles area talking to school children and adults about safety issues. Byrd has a passion for stamping out crime—especially crimes against children.

If you haven’t already guessed by now, Officer Byrd is a…Macaw! This South American native is not only a beautiful bird, he’s brainy too. In addition to educating and entertaining children on a regular basis, he has co-authored a children’s book, The Adventures of Officer Byrd: Get Help! (illustrations by Stephanus Dharma) and co-founded the Officer Byrd Non-profit Organization, whose goal is to raise funds to build safe houses for abused children. Officers Mike and Byrd have appeared on numerous television shows including “Good Morning America , The Tonight Show, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. There was even a parody of Officer Byrd on Saturday Night Live.

Karen and Officers Byrd and Mike (Mike is the one on the right!)

I sat down recently with Mike Simonsen and his feathered friend to talk about their mighty mission to end child abuse.

Karen: Please tell me about your background.

Officer Mike: After college, where I attended classes at UCLA and LA College, I spent six years in the Navy and am a Vietnam veteran. I joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1975. Part of my duties included teaching children about important public safety matters.

Karen: What inspired you to become a police officer?

Officer Mike: I wanted to help people and put the bad guys away!

Karen: How did you meet Officer Byrd?

Officer Mike: When my children were small, we visited Busch Gardens and I observed birds performing different stunts that would impress the kids and myself. I thought that having a bird would be a great “tool” to help make my talks more exciting and memorable for the kids. In 1977, I began working with Jim Kling, a bird trainer and breeder, to learn training techniques. I selected a blue and gold macaw because those are the colors of the police department and I knew this would get the attention of all the children and adults as well. Oh, and birds have smaller poops than a dog or a cat!

Karen: What are some of Officer Byrd’s likes and dislikes?

Officer Mike: He likes riding a bike, skateboard, and scooter, and he rollerskates and drives his own police car. He also knows how to throw trash away, save money in a piggy bank, push a cart in a store, wave goodbye, and likes to watch TV in his own bedroom (Animal Planet is his favorite channel). He doesn’t like bad people, especially predators on children.

Karen: What is a typical school visit like?

Officer Mike: We normally have an assembly with approximately 300–1,000 kids. We talk about bike and skateboard safety, as well as safety in the home. We also teach kids how to protect themselves from strangers and what to do if someone they know touches them inappropriately. The kids loved the Byrd when he does his stunts and they really pay attention to what I have to say.

Sometimes a child will come forward after the show and start talking to Officer Byrd; they tell him they have been hurt. The kids who are abused would rather talk to Officer Byrd than me, but I tell them I have a “bird brain” so I need to listen to them also. After they tell Byrd about the abuse, we take action to help them. We’ve helped more than 50 children in this situation.

Karen: What inspired you to write a children’s book?

Officer Mike: The fact is that over one million children are molested every year and we need to stop these predators. “The Adventures of Officer Byrd: Get Help!” is the first in a series of books that I’m writing for kids. What’s important about this book is that it will save lives and help children fight against pedophilia. There should be no secrets—we need to help children and adults as well.

Karen: How can readers order your book or learn more about your organization? 

Officer Mike: Visit our Web site at www.officerbyrd.org. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com or on our Web site. Send a check or money order for $12.00 made payable to the Officer Byrd Non-profit Organization and mail it to 6349 Riverside Ave., Riverside, CA 92506 . (The price of the book is slightly higher on Amazon.com.)

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