Crisis Intervention Training Team Recognized Statewide

Pictured L-R are Acting Monmouth County Chief of Detectives John G. McCabe, Jr., Long Branch Public Safety Director Domingos A. Saldida, Peer Recovery Specialist Nikki Tierney, Long Branch Detective Sergio Chaparro, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey, Long Branch Capt. Frank Rizzuto, and NJ Crisis Intervention Director Edward C. Dobleman (Retired Chief of the Mount Ephraim Police Department). (Photo courtesy Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office)

  MONMOUTH COUNTY – With the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) completing its third round of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, the members were recently awarded for the program’s success.

  Long Branch Police Department Detective Sergio Chaparro and local Peer Recovery Specialist Nikki Tierney were honored to respectively accept the New Jersey CIT Law Enforcement Officer of the Year and Peer of the Year awards for their joint work in saving a life in crisis last summer.

  Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey said she was honored to nominate both for the awards.

  The two were among 24 individuals from the county who were selected to participate in MCPO’s inaugural round of CIT training. The training gives 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.

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  During the week-long training in June, Chaparro struck up a conversation with Tierney and exchanged contact information. They reconnected just days later during a vital real-life situation.

  One weekday afternoon last July, first responders found a 58-year-old named Tim (last name redacted) on a public bench in Long Branch, dehydrated, homeless, and barely responsive.

  Chaparro recognized Tim’s name since he had previously responded to several calls for service involving him, including multiple previous overdoses. Knowing who he was, Chaparro reached out to Tierney through dispatch and asked that she come meet him.

  “When I arrived, I saw what appeared to be a completely broken and demoralized man sitting on a bench outside of the library, with Officer Chaparro standing beside him,” Tierney recalled. “New Jersey had just experienced a record-setting three-day heat wave, and I could see that Tim had endured every moment (outdoors).”

  Tierney said she approached the scene eager to help, but first took a step back and listened.

  “I was in complete awe of how Officer Chaparro was interacting with Tim,” she said. “He was literally incorporating every technique we were taught during our training: active listening, both through verbal and nonverbal communication, empathizing, providing solution-focused options, using a welcoming tone, and ensuring Tim did not feel threatened. It was like watching everything we had practiced … but in real life.”

  After less than an hour, Tim was linked to housing, mental health and substance use disorder support. Tierney attributed his change of heart in great part due to Chaparro’s initial response.

  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.

  Officers learn to apply the strategies they learn in real-life situations in order to minimize the potential for injury or violence. In addition, mental and behavioral health practitioners will sit in as students in the class in order to build relationships with the police officers, and to better understand the issues they face.

  About half of the various law-enforcement agencies in Monmouth County have had at least one CIT training participant to date, including the municipal departments in Aberdeen, Asbury Park, Atlantic Highlands, Avon-by-the-Sea, Belmar, Bradley Beach, Hazlet, Highlands, Holmdel, Howell, Keansburg, Keyport, Long Branch, Manalapan, Matawan, Middletown, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Rumson, Sea Girt, Spring Lake Heights, Tinton Falls, and Wall Township, as well as the Monmouth University Police Department and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

  “This is really the best real-life example of how CIT training can truly change lives for the better, and the way we see it, the more officers undergo this training, the better the quality of law-enforcement service there will be across the county,” Linskey said. “We plan to continue hosting courses for the foreseeable future, and we fully expect that we will continue to hear more and more of these success stories, which consistently end with a person facing personal turmoil receiving a measure of desperately needed compassion, and all the help they need.”