Cpl. Nate Stone, of the Marysville Division of Police, was recently named Crisis Intervention Team Officer of the Year for Union County. As mental health related calls increase, law enforcement officials are working to give officers tools to help interact with residents experiencing a mental health crisis. (Photo submitted)
In the autumn of 2020, Cpl. Nate Stone of the Marysville Police Department was called to Maryhaven.
Katie Meeker, regional site supervisor, for Maryhaven in Marysville said staff there was dealing with a mother who seemed intoxicated and was going to drive away with her small children.
When Stone arrived, he spoke with staff before approaching the woman.
Meeker said that once Stone engaged the woman, he “did a wonderful job connecting with the client, offering support and getting the client and her children’s needs met.”
“He was understanding, direct, compassionate and really helped de-escalate the client,” Meeker wrote in a letter nominating Stone for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Officer of the Year.
She said Stone had a thorough understanding of mental health and substance use symptoms and how to encourage support.
“He reassured the individual multiple times that the goal was to get her needs met, not to incarcerate her,” Meeker wrote.
After a plan had been developed and the situation was resolved, Stone worked with Maryhaven staff and asked for feedback on how he handled the situation and if he could have done anything differently to better help the woman.
Stone is on the forefront of a new type of police officer. Increasingly, law enforcement officials are being called on to handle people in mental crisis. He was part of the first Crisis Intervention Team training in 2012. Since then the need law enforcement officers trained to help citizens in mental health crisis has only increased.
“This last year we have seen a lot of mental health issues,” Stone said. “I think it is the climate.”
Deputy Chief Tony Brooks said local officers can deal with multiple mental health concerns each shift.
Stone said officers come into each situation with their law enforcement hat on, knowing that protecting the public is the first concern. But he said in many cases, officers can determine the call is not really criminal, but rather an individual going through some sort of crisis.
“This happens every day,” Stone said. “We deal with regular people having their worst days and it is not always criminal. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them.”
He added that sometimes people are just frustrated and need someone to vent to. Because police are in the community, they often become the face of government and an easy person to vent to.
“A lot of times you find that once they get that out, you have a reasonable person to deal with, they just need to feel like they are being heard,” Stone said.
He explained that very often, treating a person like a person, rather than a suspect, will help deescalate a situation. He said that he has developed a relationship with many in the community. Those relationships help establish trust in a difficult situation.
Stone said not every situation resolves happily.
“Ultimately, it is kind of up to them, but we have been given the tools,” Stone said of the CIT training.
He said he tries to treat every citizen, in every situation, the way he would want members of his family treated.
Brooks said that mindset is tied into the division’s guiding principles of dedication, empathy and courage.
He said it takes courage for officers to go into an unknown situation.
“But sometimes they need to quickly transition from that mindset, still having courage, but seeing the person and trying to be able to have empathy for that person in this situation,” Brooks said.
Stone said the police department practices this, trains for it, talks about it. He said that training officers instill it younger officers. Supervisors preach it to the others.
“It really is the culture within the organization,” Stone said.
He added that because each officer is on the same page, it allows them to know what other officers will do next.
He said the police department is not alone.
“We work so closely with the hospital, Mental Health and Recovery Board, the school. It is huge to be able to reach out to them,” Stone said.
But more help is needed. Stone said it can be frustrating to deal with the same person over and over, knowing there is no way he can truly help.
Brooks said police can deal with a specific behavior, but it is beyond their ability to deal with the underlying problem. He said police can secure a scene for a time and transport a person for physical treatment or mental health counseling, but there is little beyond that. The deputy chief said that once the individual is medically cleared or no longer a threat, they are often released and the cycle will repeat itself.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but there has to be a way help,” Stone said.