Sgt. Adam Laser of the Westminster Police Department was named Innovator of the Year for the county’s Crisis Intervention Team during a graduation of the team’s newest members Nov. 9.
The Times caught up with Laser to ask about innovations on the Crisis Intervention Team and the how they have worked with students and community members.
Q: Who makes up the CIT? Is it all members of the Westminster Police Department, or is it a collaboration of many agencies?
A: The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a joint collaboration between law enforcement officers that are specially trained by and work alongside mental health professionals with the goal of providing services and appropriate referrals to the proper metal health services with the primary goal of reducing the number of mentally ill individuals entering the criminal justice system and getting them the proper help whenever possible.
In Carroll County it is absolutely a collaboration and joint effort with several different agencies. Our Carroll County multi-jurisdiction team just add to our ranks with the newly graduated CIT trained officers in the Maryland State Police, Taneytown Police and Mount Airy Police departments.
Our team could not do what it does without the expertise and guidance of our Crisis Intervention Team Coordinator, Lt. Thomas Kowalczyk. He and his colleagues within the Carroll County Health Department have been and continue to be the driving force of the program and are in no small part the reason why we have been so successful.
Q: What is the mission of the CIT?
A: In the United States there was a move to deinstitutionalization of nonviolent mentally ill patients during the 1960s. There was a push for budget cuts and the money saved was supposed to be utilized for outpatient community based programs for these individuals.
Sadly this didn’t happen and mental health contacts increased dramatically and the response to this was law enforcement intervention. CIT was primarily developed in the late 80s in Memphis Tennessee when a mentally ill subject was unfortunately shot and killed due to lack of training on dealing with individuals that have mental illness. It has thus spread across the United States and almost every state now has a CIT unit within the various law enforcement ranks.
Q: When are they most often called to respond?
A: CIT is utilized in a variety of different calls but I would say that most of our calls are with suicidal subjects and check welfares and with individuals where mental illness has been previously identified.
Q: What is your role on the team?
I have been on the Carroll County team since its inception and was part of the first graduating class in 2014. Since that time I have utilized my training in numerous incidents and have even transcended my training to my role as a hostage negotiator that works with our Carroll County Crisis Response Team. I was promoted to a Sergeant approximately a year and a half ago and transitioned from daily patrol to the Community Education and Outreach Division. I still assist on the street a lot and utilize CIT both on and off the road and within my current position which ultimately led to me being recognized in the small role that I played to earn the innovator award this year.
Q: Could you talk a little about the innovation that you were a part of?
A: While I was humbled to just be nominated and graciously accepted the award, I can tell you that I alone was not deserving of the award. It truly was a collaborative effort and I could not have pulled it off without numerous individuals that I work with.
In January of this year during my role as community outreach I was contacted by two teachers at Winters Mill High School, Rebecca Keys and Jillian St. Laurant who are speech pathologists and work with a section of various levels of autistic children within the school system. They had heard about the CIT program and reached out to learn more about it. Through several think tank meetings with them, myself and Lt. Kowalczyk we formulated multifaceted education process for their students.
The first part included meeting the students and interacting with them on a one-on-one basis. Myself, Lt. Kowalczyk, Sgt. Rick Lambert and Deputy Demonte Harvey of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office went to Winters Mills and for a couple of hours met with truly wonderful students within the program and began to get acquainted with each other. I know that I speak for everyone involved that we as law enforcement learned as much from our interactions with those students as we had ever learned in our trainings. It truly was a special day for all involved.
The next step included a tour of the police station with the entire class of nearly 40 students, the teachers, some parents and aids all came to the Westminster Police Department and got about an hour long tour of every facet of our department and what we do as police officers on a daily basis. They got to meet and interact not only with several of our CIT officers but also with other officers including our Chief of Police Jeff Spaulding throughout the tour.
The final process was an education portion that was broken down in to two parts. The first bringing all the students together and giving more individual interactions with our CIT officers and other parts of police work such as a K-9 Unit with the sole purpose of educating students on how they can assist us as law enforcement officers addressing their needs should a crisis incident occur and educating ourselves on the best way to accomplish that task.
Again this couldn’t have been done without the assistance of my co-workers and a special thanks need to be given to them — PFC Obst (Westminster Police Department), Lt. Kowlczyk (Westminster Police Department), Cpl. Halterman (Mount Airy Police Department) and a group known as Pathfinders who work with the Autistic individuals through the “Be Safe” program around the country and are truly amazing at creating the highest quality of life for both the individuals with autism and their families.
Lastly, Lt. Kowalczyk alongside of Pathfinders met with the parents of the students to continue the education and reiterate the lessons learned and taught over the past couple of weeks to continue moving forward and improving the services we as law enforcement can provide to individuals with special needs.
Q: Over the past few months, have there been any other innovations or changes to the work of the CIT that are important to recognize?
We continue to educate ourselves and others about our program and strive for the newest and most up to date trainings and lessons learned every day to provide the best services we can and we complete yearly in-service trainings each year to stay on the cutting edge.
Within the past several months Carroll County has implemented the Mobile Crisis Unit which consists of real time assistance from both mental health professionals and peers who are actively involved in the mental health programs working alongside of our CIT officers giving the best, up-to-date and on-the-spot care for individuals that may be in crisis with mental illness.