Wilton police want staff fully trained on crisis intervention

Wilton Police headquarters

Wilton Police headquarters

Hearst Connecticut Media File Photo

WILTON — At the moment, roughly 75 percent of Wilton's active police officers are certified for Crisis Intervention Team, said Capt. Rob Cipolla. The goal is to get that number back to 100 percent, where it once stood before the pandemic.

CIT certification comes through specific training of best practices when handling individuals in a mental health or substance use crisis and teaches officers how to best connect them with local resources. Town police departments are able to receive the 40-hour training for free from the CT Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement thanks to funding from state grants.

Cipolla said that there was a big focus in 2016 on having each officer in the department go through the training. When at full strength, he said, there was an assurance that, no matter who was working what shift, there was always an officer who knew how to best handle crisis intervention calls.

"What we would classify as a crisis intervention call is someone dealing with a known mental health issue or someone dealing with some kind of psychological disability, and attempts or threatened attempts at suicide," Cipolla said.

The pandemic has affected that number, though. The department currently has 34 certified officers. It has 41 listed members on the town website.

With turnover and new officer hires since the onset of the pandemic, Cipolla said that one of the department's goals is to get its non-certified members to complete that training starting at the top of 2023. Any new hires made next year will also be encouraged to go through the CIT training.

Part of the training is to have all police officers aware of the community resources available.

In a presentation made to the Board of Selectmen earlier this week, Cipolla and Wilton Director of Social Services Sarah Heath laid out the list of local organizations and town departments that can aid first responders when dealing with crisis intervention calls. Those include Kids in Crisis in Greenwich, a nonprofit that provides intervention services through a hotline and in-person counseling for children; Wilton Youth Services that provides counseling as well as referrals to local medical providers; Wilton Social Services that employs three state licensed professionals; and the HUB for Southwestern CT that helps with substance abuse prevention and suicide awareness.

In all, though, the training helps officers be better situated to deal with these sensitive issues, Cipolla said.

"Our officers now have the training to recognize these things and have more of an understanding of, 'OK, this person is acting this way maybe because of this particular reason,'" he said. "They then have the tools to be patient, take their time and resolve the situation."

In some instances, Cipolla said, it may take an extended amount of time to de-escalate the situation before anyone may be transported to a hospital or further steps need to be taken. Having the insight into how to deal with these scenarios without use of force is key, he said.

And the Wilton Police are seeing 2022's critical calls on pace with the total they did last year.

Last year, police had 62 crisis intervention calls in town. There have been 56 in 2022, as of Monday. Last year, the largest number of calls came in the fourth quarter of the year, with 23. There have been nine so far in this year's fourth quarter. Cipolla speculated that added stresses from the holidays could cause the jump in cases relative to other times of the year, but said he couldn't be certain the specific cause. 

Of those calls in 2021, 25 were for individuals younger than 19. So far this year, there have been 21 of those same calls.

Cipolla said there are also Police Emergency Examination Requests, where "any police officer who has reasonable cause to believe that a person has psychiatric disabilities and is dangerous to himself or herself or others or is gravely disabled and in need of immediate care" can themselves take such person into custody and to a hospital for emergency examination.

Last year, there were 57 of those instances. There have been 51 in 2022 as of Monday.

Cipolla said that the CIT training is of extreme importance and shows that police are bettering their awareness of the issue.

"It's really an awareness and recognition of it, and having the tools to bring these incidents to safe resolutions for everybody," he said.