City police crisis management program vital to defusing potential volatile situations
KINGSTON >> City police Detective Lt. Thierry Croizier says he is proud of the men and women in his department, many of whom he has trained in defusing potentially volatile situations.
On Oct. 13, Croizer believes that training may have saved a woman’s life, and perhaps the lives of some of Kingston’s men and women in blue.
Early that morning, police received a 911 call from a woman reporting shots fired in an apartment at 82 Cedar Street. When officers Jeremy Arciello, Michael Defrance, Adrienne Pontecorvo, Edward Shuman and Christopher Zambrella arrived, they found an obviously distressed young woman holding what appeared to be a handgun.
The officers, who were confined in a small apartment building entryway, were able to convince the woman to drop the gun (which turned out to be a pellet gun, but resembled a pistol) and she was safely taken into custody.
The woman, who was not charged with a crime and has not been identified, was taken to Health-Alliance Hospital for evaluation and treatment.
“If they hadn’t remained calm and reverted back to their training ... the situation could have ended much differently,” Croizer said. “Too often, you hear about those times
when those situations don’t end well.”
Although there were five officers on the scene, he said only one spoke to the 22-year-old woman.
“It sounds silly, but it’s real important because a person’s in distress and there were three or four officers there,” Crozier said. “If there had been three or four people yelling directions to her, it’s going to confuse them even more.”
After convincing the woman to drop her weapon, Crozier said the officers learned she had called the police herself, was holding a pellet gun and her intent was “to commit suicide by cop.”
Police Chief Egidio Tinti said “the officers used the training they received in dealing with an emotionally distressed person and the outcome was that everyone – the officers, the individual and others in the apartment were safe and unharmed.
“Who knows what the outcome may have been without any training.”
“I truly believe that the training that officers receive in regards to dealing with a person in crisis helps those officers use better judgement ... and greatly enhances safety for all involved: the responding officers, emotionally distressed
individuals and others present at the call,” Croizer said.
Croizer said Kingston police have been at the forefront of mental health awareness training, which is now mandated statewide, since 1987 or ’88.
“It brings me great pride,” he said, “because I’m very proud of my Kingston police department heritage.”
The detective lieutenant is a New York state certified master instructor in the Police Mental Health Recruit Curriculum and teaches classes at a police academy offered at SUNY Ulster to Kingston police as well as officers from other areas.
He also consults with the security staff of New York Presbyterian Hospital. Croizer conducts all of the training as a consultant and on his own time, he said.
The 50-year-old father of two — a 21-year-old parttime Olive police officer and a 19-year-old Dutchess Community College student — said his passion for the police mental health curriculum began in 2002, the year he lost his best friend to suicide.
“Any time I teach this class, I basically teach it in his honor,” Croizer said. “I think about him every day. He was literally like a brother to me.”
Croizer’s personal loss left him a believer in the importance of training cops to handle crisis, whether they involve emotionally distressed
or mentally ill individuals, and in working to dispel the stigma sometimes attached to mental illness.
“Please remember that persons who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be a victim of crime than to commit a crime. Of all violent crimes committed, only 3 to 5 percent are directly attributed to someone who is suffering from mental illness,” he said. “I am not a doctor. We are not doctors in law enforcement.
“I’m not going to diagnose anybody . ... They might appear to be mentally ill ... (But) it might be due to substance abuse ... it might be due to a medical condition. ... It might be ... Alzheimer’s dimentia. It might be a host of other medical conditions, maybe a brain tumor or something else that might make someone appear to be mentally ill. And also, you might have situational stress,” he said.
“The officers, like I said, aren’t doctors and they have to recognize that a person’s in crisis and they’re not going to solve this person’s problems . ... We’re just there to help individuals start getting the help they need.”
Not only does Croizer provide training in the local academy, he travels throughout New York state and trains other officers and mental health professionals to be certified New York state instructors. And he’s also a Crisis Intervention Team trainer.
“The CIT program is a week-long course that reinforces what was previously taught in the academy as well as identifies other resources available to the officers to be better able to help an individual in crisis,” Tinti said. “His training to surrounding police academies, police agencies, and throughout the state helps officers better cope with difficult calls for service and increases safety in these situations — for the officers, individuals in crisis and bystanders at the calls.”
Tinti said city police respond to about 30 calls a month “strictly involving a person in crisis, an emotionally distressed person.”
He said that number “doesn’t include all the other calls where an officer responds to a call where, one party or more, may be upset or stressed to the point that they may be acting or thinking less rationally then a person without that same stress.”
For that reason, the chief said, the mental health training an officer receives at the police academy and throughout his or her career is “invaluable.”
“The officer on the road gets to put that training to use on a daily basis,” Tinti said, and “uses the communication skills that they learned in their academy training to help them connect with the person in crisis, de-escalate the situation, and direct the person to a safe outcome for all.”
Kingston Police Detective Lt. Thierry Crozier said crisis management training has been a life-saver to many.
Handbook used for police crisis management training.