Officers Bill Atha of the Kent State University Police Department, Chris Hartlaub of the NEOMED Police Department, and Ryan Wolf of the Streetsboro Police Department were recognized as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Officers of the Year by the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County and the Portage County Police Chiefs Association.
The officers were awarded for practicing the communication and de-escalation techniques they learned during their CIT training. In the training, officers learn to safely work with people in crisis who may have a mental illness or be experiencing a traumatic event.
Officer Atha responded to ten mental health crises as a primary officer and assisted on many more in 2018.
“As former Division 1 college football player, Officer Atha is a large and imposing man,” commented Assistant Chief Bill Buckbee who nominated Atha for the award. “However, he is well known for his patience and empathy, especially when dealing with people in crisis.”
Last year on two separate occasions people observed Atha in action and contacted the department to compliment his interaction with persons in crisis.
“Bill is a model of the competence and caring that signifies an accomplished CIT officer,” said Buckbee.
Officer Hartlaub of NEOMED was honored for his response during a welfare check at an on-campus apartments. The individual expressed thoughts of hopelessness and articulated a plan of ‘suicide by cop’.
“Officer Hartlaub utilized his CIT skills to de-escalate the individual, and eventually convinced the individual to voluntarily go to the hospital,” stated NEOMED Police Chief Kali Moenske.
At the Streetsboro Police Department, Officer Wolf volunteers to respond to calls involving kids and citizens with special needs.
Chief Darin Powers described one incident when Wolf helped resolve a domestic dispute involving an autistic child. Wolf spent extra time explaining what the child did was incorrect and how to correct his behavior moving forward. “He was both caring and compassionate the entire time,” stated Chief Powers.
Another example was given of Ryan taking the time to work with a mother on how to access resources to get her distressed son the help he needed.
“The Board thanks the officers not only for doing such an outstanding job of practicing CIT skills, but also for everything they do daily to help the community,” stated John Garrity, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. “CIT training offers police officers the unique opportunity to acquire skills to better understand those with mental illnesses and to work collaboratively with the professionals and community to help our residents who are in crisis.”
Since 2006, more than 250 officers have completed the class in Portage County. Every law enforcement agency in the county has CIT officers. The course is supported nationwide by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.