Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Stratford police win federal grant for de-escalation training
STRATFORD — The police department will receive $43,000 from the federal government to further the work of a de-escalation program cops say is paying dividends in the community.
Stratford is one of two departments in the state to be awarded money for de-escalation training in the latest round of the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants, which totaled $33 million nationwide.
The funding comes to a department that has already made a priority of the tactic through its Police Engagement Program, designed to teach officers and civilians alike de-escalation techniques, mutual empathy, and how to recognize and address implicit bias.
The program — presented through the department’s Police Activities League to dozens of community groups, police departments and colleges and universities — started five years ago, and police say it’s working.
For example, during an incident in May, after a reported shooting a juvenile holding a loaded handgun fled from two detectives who had participated in the program, Alex Torres and Jon Policano. The cops recognized the suspect and were able to talk them down and into custody.
Police Chief Joseph McNeil, who recently won a Distinguished Chief Award from the Police Commissioners Association of Connecticut, said the program is paying off.
“I believe the program is making a difference,” he said in an email. “We have been very adept at changing our police tactics to confront the emerging issues — but it is a combined effort by police, judicial and juvenile services that will make the difference.”
During a visit to the department U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the Police Engagement Program “could be a model for the whole country” and that he would urge the federal Justice Department to support it with further investment.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro wrote a Congressional Letter of Support of Stratford’s grant application to DOJ that said the town “has submitted a strong application that demonstrates their commitment to both enhancing training opportunities for their officers and strengthening the relationship between Stratford Police Department and the community it serves.”
Mayor Laura Hoydick said she is very pleased the feds recognized the town’s “continuous efforts to gain the latest and best training for our police officers, especially in this critically important area of de-escalating situations so that no one gets hurt.”
“Recent events in the country have led law enforcement professionals to research and develop new means to more effectively deal with individuals who are under stress due to law enforcement encounters or other factors,” Hoydick said in a prepared statement. “The use of de-escalation techniques to resolve and bring a peaceful end to confrontations will greatly benefit all involved. The skills have proven useful in a wide range of situations — from conducting motor vehicle stops to calming volatile situations with armed suspects.”
She credited McNeil with supporting the Police Engagement Program, and its “Calm, Cool and Comply” catchphrase to guide interactions between police and members of the public.
“This training program underscores our commitment to our citizens and to provide the best service possible,” McNeil said.
In announcing the grants last week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that “keeping communities safe requires building relationships and increasing trust between law enforcement and those they serve,”
“It is particularly meaningful to announce these awards during National Community Policing Week, which recognizes the importance of community policing and the positive results we can achieve when law enforcement and community members work together,” Garland said in a prepared statement.