NORWALK, Conn. -- Police officers expect to put themselves in harm's way when they're on the job, but Sgt. Lisa Cotto hadn't even clocked in yet when she got out of her own car recently on the Stroffolino Bridge to deal with a mentally ill person wandering in traffic. He was less than cooperative, but Cotto had a secret weapon: her crisis intervention training.
"I definitely reacted differently," said Cotto, who understood the man's need to keep moving, even as he attempted to kick her car.
The Norwalk Police Department was one of seven in the area to be honored recently for the strides it has made in learning to deal with mentally ill people. Cotto received the plaque during a ceremony at the Westport Library from the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board "for exemplary commitment to crisis intervention teams and the safety and well-being of persons with mental illness and their families."
Cotto was one of the first Norwalk officers to get the training, which has been offered by the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement since 2003. Candidates are chosen based on their police skill, compassion, patience and the ability to think creatively, according to CABLE's website . The 40-hour course covers mental illness and substance abuse, the mental health system, safe de-escalation techniques, police officer suicides, suicide assessment and prevention, children's mental health and trauma, mental health and the law, excited delirium and real-life perspectives on living with mental illness.
Cotto said many other Norwalk officers have gotten the training since she took the course four years ago. The goal is to have 20 percent of the department certified in crisis intervention, so that when there is a call involving a mentally ill person there will be an officer available to deal with it.
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