Fairfield police trained for new reality of policing
FAIRFIELD — An officer responds to call about an out of control person. On scene, that person won’t obey any commands from the officer.
Should he wrestle the man to the ground? Hit him with a Taser? These days, a Fairfield officer is more likely than not going to take a step back, and simply talk.
“It’s a way to empathize, to ask questions,” said Sgt. Peter Koval, head of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team. “It’s different than the traditional method of just rushing in. It’s more trying to talk to them, and help connect them to services that might be beneficial to them.”
Part of the Patrol Division, the CIT was formed in 2011, and is made up of trained patrol officers, dispatchers and detectives. Participants receive training to help differentiate between between someone simply being difficult, and someone who may be in the grips of a mental health or substance abuse crisis.
“It’s beneficial to all of us,” Koval said. “Our safety is also important.”
Officer Tom Gorton, on the force for a year and a half, recently became certified as a member of the CIT.
Goals for the CIT
Less need for the use of Lethal Force
Reduction in injuries to mental health consumers
Reduction in officer injuries
Reduction in Emergency Room recidivism
Reduction in civil litigation
Improvements in community relations
“I just finished a follow up,” Gorton said, and that is another part of the CIT approach. It’s not simply one visit to residence, write a report, and case closed. Team members, he said, will make follow up visits. “We’ll knock on their door and offer any other assistance.”
“We do go back, and we check on them,” Koval, a 13-year veteran of the force, said, “and check on their well being.”
The training, Gorton said, helps officers to gain a new perspective. “Sometimes, a person isn’t responding to you because they’re hearing voices,” he said. During one training exercise, Gorton said, they had to put on headphones, and for 45 minutes, listen to other voices.
It gives you an idea, he said of what a schizophrenic is going through. “Of course, we could take the headphones off,” Gorton said.
“If you don’t know what they’re going through, you may not understand,” Koval said. “Imagine hearing that 24 hours a day.”
Koval said there are CIT-certified officers on all three shifts, and all of the school safety officers are also certified.
“If we can reach a person, and at least connect them with someone, and improve their quality of life,” Koval said, it means the CIT idea is working.
But the CIT training also comes in handy in other aspects of a police officer’s job, Koval and Gorton said.
“Even with a traffic stop, and you have someone yelling at you,” Koval said. “You have no idea what kind of a day they’ve had, and they may be just taking their anger out on you. You can ask them some questions, and even if you still give them a ticket, maybe they drive away a bit calmer.”
Team members are also prepared to intervene with elderly residents, who may be living on their own, with no family nearby. They will check for signs of hoarding, and check the refrigerator to make sure there is food, and that they are able to obtain any needed medical prescriptions.
If necessary, police will make referrals to the town’s Social Services Department.
Koval said that whenever the CIT training is held, the department tries to send a few more officers. “We’ll send as many as we can,” he said.
According to Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy, the goal is to have 25 percent of the organization certified.
“When we have that, we’re confident if any call for service, we would have enough officers available to handle the volume,” Lyddy said
Lyddy said CITs are growing in popularity across the country, but it may take years to see the residual affect on crime statistics. “But the main purpose is that we acknowledge that mental health is a very important aspect of law enforcement, and one that requires continued followup,” he said.
Lyddy did say, however, “clearly, we seeing an important after affect of improved community relationships.”