FREEHOLD – It had all the hallmarks of a call for service that could have easily gone quickly and badly wrong.
Thanks to four Keyport Police Department officers – including three in only their second calendar year of service, one of whom completed MCPO Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training just several months ago – the opposite outcome transpired. It was the second successful outcome to such a call this month involving officers who attended the May 2022 CIT Training at the Prosecutor’s Office.
Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey and Acting MCPO Chief of Detectives John G. McCabe Jr. personally visited Patrolmen Vito Koempel, Christopher DeGroat, Elijah Smith, and Nicholas Massaro in Keyport earlier this week to honor and thank them in person, echoing Keyport Police Chief Shannon Torres in praising a level-headed team response under remarkable pressure while recently addressing an individual experiencing a severe crisis.
“This is what CIT is all about,” Linskey said. “Infusing a police response to a volatile situation such as this with understanding, compassion, and a willingness to listen is inevitably going to lead to a hugely improved outcome, and these officers’ actions stand as a powerful testament to that. I’m grateful that our police departments are embracing CIT, and that we are seeing such positive results in the field.”
While DeGroat joined his Department in 2014, the other three responding officers have fewer than two years on the job – Koempel earned his badge in January 2021, Massaro last July, and Smith just this past December. Then, Koempel was one of a select group of about two dozen sworn officers countywide to participate in MCPO’s third round of CIT training in May 2022 – the 40-hour sessions provide an in-depth look at mental illness, behavioral health, developmental disabilities, and their implications for a law-enforcement response during a crisis, with a strong emphasis on de-escalation.
All four Patrolmen were dispatched to the recent call for an individual in crisis in a residential neighborhood. The subject was initially described as upset, confused, and armed – but within minutes, Koempel and his partners managed to calm the situation and convince the person to discard their weapon.
From there, they recalled, they managed to establish a rapport with the individual – who ultimately insisted that they, not EMTs, be the ones to transport them to receive medical attention.
They happily agreed.
“Just sitting there talking to someone, and really listening, goes a long way,” Koempel said when asked to summarize how CIT training guided his approach.
About half of the more than four dozen various law-enforcement agencies in Monmouth County have now had at least one CIT training participant to date. Keyport will be adding two more when the fourth round of training kicks off in October.
“Everyone in our ranks now wants to go get trained,” Chief Torres said.
The four officers honored this week also have one notable trait in common – policing is a family affair for each. Koempel’s uncle is a retired member of the Aberdeen Police Department; DeGroat’s father’s cousin is a retired Deputy Inspector of the NYPD, while his cousin is an active member of the NYPD; Massaro’s father works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department; and Smith’s brother is a member of the New Jersey State Human Services Police – while his godmother is MCPO Lt. Delisa Brazile, who retired in August 2020 following nearly 20 years with the Office and 25 years of law-enforcement service.
CIT training is based on an innovative international model, with community mental healthcare and advocacy partnerships. Instructors for MCPO’s CIT training include behavioral and mental health professionals from Monmouth Medical Center, the Monmouth County Mental Health Association, the Monmouth County Mental Health Board, and CPC Behavioral Healthcare, as well as crisis resolution experts.
For more information on CIT in New Jersey, go online to http://www.cit-nj.org/.