Yale Daily News

Content warning: This article contains references to suicide.

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Last July, New Haven Police Department Officer Chad Curry responded to a crisis call from a man considering suicide. Using de-escalation techniques, Curry persuaded the man to put down the knife he was holding to his neck until an ambulance crew arrived. 

NHPD Chief Karl Jacobson and Assistant Chief David Zannelli have credited Curry’s response to the incident — which was recorded on body camera — to NHPD’s implementation of a national program called Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics program, or known as ICAT. It has so far been implemented in 33 states and 125 police departments, including one in British Columbia. 

ICAT is an officer training program designed by the nationwide Police Executive Research Forum to avoid the use of force in situations that are better resolved through communication. The program, which the NHPD implemented in July, is one of several police training the department has added since Jacobson and Zannelli were sworn into their current positions.

“It’s like verbal judo with tactics,” Assistant Chief Zannelli explained. “We try to use de-escalation whenever it’s plausible, whenever it’s safe to do so, to calm people down because someone’s excited or they’re in a traumatic event, or nervous, it doesn’t do much good to just yell at them. So we use time and we use distance, we use understanding to try and relate to the person.”

The ICAT program involves 12 hours of up-front training and additional refresher training, according to Zannelli. The NHPD trains three instructors for ICAT, and these instructors train other officers who are scheduled on duty. It costs the NHPD approximately $800 to train each of the three initial ICAT instructors and $2,500 in total for the program.  

The program aims to realize the proposition laid out in NHPD’s Use of Force General Statement, which was issued last January in response to NHPD Officer Justin Cole’s head-punching  unarmed New Havener Shawn Marshall. Section 6.01.05 of the statement outlines strategies for de-escalation and mitigation. The statement defined the “necessary” use of force, and permits the use of force only when “necessary, reasonable and proportionate to the threat encountered.” The statement also orders officers to intervene upon witnessing another officer’s unnecessary use of force. 

Jacobson mentioned changes the department has instituted following the paralyzation of Randy Cox in police custody this summer. One of these changes included mandating the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, or department-wide ABLE training.

“If an officer sees that another officer is treating someone poorly, ABLE gives the officer the skills on how to deescalate that [other] officer, get them away from and also report what that officer has done and go through the proper procedures and everything.” explained Chief Jacobson at a Civilian Review Board review meeting on Jan. 23. 

Michael Jefferson, an attorney for Cox and former chairperson of Connecticut’s African American Affairs Commission, expressed his support of NHPD’s efforts. 

“I really do, I genuinely believe the Chief and his administration are trying,” said Jefferson. “It’s just difficult because you’re dealing with a very entrenched culture. And you’re attempting to tackle white supremacy. Policing grew out of slave patrols, and to eradicate the notion that criminality is Black and brown is the key.”

But despite the efforts of the NHPD, Jefferson explained that police brutality must be combatted not only through training but also reforms of the recruitment process.

“I think the vetting process is important. Who we allow to be trained is important,” Jefferson told the News. “Who we allow and who are we allowing in our freedom Academy you know, are they even worthy of being here?”

Jefferson suggested that NHPD officers engage with potential recruits to get a sense of what kind of person they are and why they want to be part of the organization. He urged NHPD officers involved in the hiring process to determine whether recruits have been affiliated with white supremacist organizations, as well as how they reacted to police brutality against Black men like Rodney King and Tyre Nichols.  

“I think the vetting process has to be improved,” said Jefferson. “Some of those things are quite telling.” 

To this purpose, the NHPD made additions to their existing cultural diversity and anti bias training. At the most recent Civilian Review Board meeting, Lt. Manmeet Colon discussed how the training has been useful for New Haven officers. 

“For someone that’s coming from the outside that is not familiar with the inner city and how the upbringing is of folks in the inner city, we try to play scenarios,” Colon said. “We try to give examples so they can better understand what people are going through in a city like New Haven.”

Currently, according to Zannelli, NHPD officers are required to take a cultural sensitivity training course that teaches the principles of Martin Luther King. In addition, all NHPD officers are required to visit the Ruby & Calvin Fletcher African American History Museum in Stratford, Connecticut. The museum is run by Jeff Fletcher, a 20-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department.

It’s a thought provoking tour that we do,” explained Zannelli. “We recently signed on to that to give our new recruits a different perspective. This is why we have to take our time when people see us on scene. If I’m calm, but my African American brothers are not, it’s because the history is different for them. We’re trying to be progressive with how we teach our people.”

The Police Executive Research Forum, PERF, is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington D.C. that researches and reports on police policies and crimes. 

Hannah Kotler covers Cops & Courts and Transportation for the City desk. She is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles majoring in Ethics, Politics, Economics.