On November 28th an intimate group comprised of members, staff, from both Fountain House and Fountain House Bronx and a Fountain House board member had a meeting with Deputy Chief Terri Tobin. Terri Tobin is currently the commanding officer of collaborative policing in the NYPD. She is highly decorated, for her heroic actions during the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Among her various awards, she received the NYPD Medal of Valor. Her citation reads: “Awarded for an act of personal bravery intelligently performed in the line of duty at imminent personal hazard to life under circumstances showing a disregard of personal consequences.” Beyond her numerous accolades, today deputy chief Tobin works to institute Crisis Intervention Trainings among the 35,000 New York City police.
At the meeting when Chief Tobin introduced herself, she shocked the room because; she stated that before coming into the police force, she worked as a Social Worker. This tidbit about her past work allowed for the room to be at ease about the subsequent conversation. Terri didn’t come alone, but she brought along her colleague Detective Ken Rice also was involved within the discussion. Chief Tobin then went on to describe what the department is doing to train police officers to deal with mental health crises. She expressed that the project is moving slowly because of the size of the police force, but is moving forward, nevertheless.
The discussion was cordial, honest and fruitful. Members expressed their concern about incidents like the Deborah Danner case. They emphasized that in crisis situations police must be as non-aggressive as possible: no holding their guns, gentle tone, and demeanor, tolerant and cognizant of the fact that mental health community members are not always in control of themselves when in crisis.
Both Fountain House members and staffers encouraged the police to develop long-term relationships, so that police can become personally familiar with Fountain House and its members, thereby helping the police to see our members at their best and understand that, in spite of our occasional crises, that members are still human beings. Another suggestion that was mentioned was for NYPD officers to come to the clubhouse and give presentations to our members on how to respond to the authorities. Also, it was suggested that officers come to visit the clubhouse, taking tours and learn about the clubhouse model, so they can know what it is all about.
It is evident that the police department needs supplementary training so that they can better serve our community. However, this meeting was very significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it opened a channel of communication between the NYPD administration and the Fountain House community. Secondly, it made the police more aware of the stigma that those with a mental disorder face each and every day. Thirdly, it offered attendees the opportunity to hear the concerns of NYPD officers.
Overall this meeting was a success because it has opened up the lines of communication between the clubhouse and the NYPD. Also, from this discussion the Fountain House Community was given an invitation to attend future Crisis Intervention Trainings and share their stories and interactions with officers. Lastly, we invited Deputy Chief Tobin and Detective Rice to attend the next 1 in 4 5K, because we believe by having police representation at this event it can serve as a bridge to shorten the gap between the NYPD and the Mental Health Community.