By ROBERT E. DAVIDSON
Connecticut has invested a lot of time and money on Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training to help police de-escalate angry people.
It is designed by police to reduce injuries to both officers and suspects, especially those in the grip of anger or a mental illness. Norwich, New London, Waterford, and other towns have groups of CIT-trained officers.
I saw a good argument for CIT the other night. A 19-year- old man was sitting on the hood of his mother's car in the street right in front of my house.
She wanted to go to work; he wanted to use the car. He said repeatedly that he would take her to work, that the car would not work if he hadn't fixed it, and that his friends could not come and pick him up.
Both he and his mother were using cellphones. I heard him explaining things to his grandmother on his.
He was generally rational, but angry, cursing occasionally. My wife and I worried that it might escalate, so after about 15 minutes of standoff, I called police. I asked the dispatcher to send CIT officers if available. She said that she did not know if there were any, but would check.
The two who came promptly showed why we need CIT. The first thing one said as he pulled next to the car was "What the heck are you doing? Get off that car!"
They immediately grabbed him and tried to handcuff him. He resisted, as angry young men often do, and one officer pulled out his Taser. The man was too angry to realize that the best way to avoid Tasing was to relax.
Finally they got him in the back of a cruiser and told the mother that he would be charged with breach of peace and resisting arrest and would go to Corrigan. Since it was a holiday weekend, he was probably there until Tuesday.
The officers used the force they felt they needed, but they too were visibly angry. Rather than move his cruiser, one threatened to arrest a neighbor who was just trying to get to his driveway if he did not take a mile-long detour through central Norwich to come around the other way.
In the end, the young man was also charged with assault on a police officer. That is two additional charges added to the original breach of peace growing out of a family argument.
CIT officers could have avoided those charges and the risk inherent in any assault. They might have said, "Hey, man, what's going on here? Why don't you come over here out of the street and we can talk about it? No need to hold up all these other people."
While the kid was venting his anger over use of a car on a Saturday night that he had fixed, the other officer might have talked to the mother and let her go on.
With the car gone, the discussion would eventually lose steam. It might have taken several tries, but this kind of non-violent family argument should have been resolved without injury or extra charges, even if the man was unreasonable.
There may have been good reason for him not to drive, but he respected his mother and grandmother - though these officers did not find that out. They could always arrest him later.
An angry kid is not a criminal. Let's not make him one if we don't have to.
Robert E. Davidson, PhD, is director of the Eastern Regional Mental Health Board, a non-profit planning and evaluation agency for mental health programs in eastern Connecticut, and president of the state affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a support and advocacy group for people with mental illnesses.