In conjunction with the “Mapping Equity in Dayton” exhibit on display at Wright Public Library through the end of September, and the Library's LET'S TALK panel discussion on September 15 about Dayton's new Mediation Response Unit (MRU), we interviewed Oakwood Public Safety Chief Alan Hill to gain his perspective on the implementation of the MRU in Dayton and to learn how Oakwood's Public Safety Department responds to low-level infractions and quality of life complaints.
Q: A recent Dayton Daily News article about the City of Dayton's new Mediation Response Unit (MRU) described the MRU as a new and innovative way of responding to non-emergency 911 calls that meets residents' needs while reducing the volume of calls directed to the police and reducing interactions between police and community members that have the potential to escalate. What are your thoughts on this initiative?
The MRU provides the Dayton Police Department with an alternative to traditional police intervention for low-level type criminal offenses or quality-of-life complaints where a law enforcement officer's presence is not required to mitigate a situation. Until the implementation of this program, Dayton Police officers responded to these minor complaints, but now, trained MRU personnel who specialize in non-violent conflict resolution will respond and attempt to resolve the situation. Through conversations, I have heard the program is working well thus far.
In Oakwood, our Public Safety Officers (PSOs) routinely respond daily to non-emergency and quality-of-life complaints. We treat these calls similarly to an emergency call for service because citizens typically only call the police when they have no one else to help them. Their problems may involve a broken water pipe, a bat in the house, or a barking dog. We get complaints about parking, excessive noise, kids playing in the street, and neighbor disputes. In these moments, we truly rely on the professionalism of our PSOs to recognize the situation and approach the issue from a conversation/understanding/de-escalation perspective versus what used to be the more
traditional “enforcement of law” approach. All Oakwood PSOs are trained and certified in police, fire, and emergency medical services, which is unique in law enforcement. Certification in all three disciplines requires extensive and ongoing training in many subject areas. This comprehensive training provides the department personnel with the skills to handle both emergency and non-emergency calls swiftly and effectively.
Q: Three Oakwood Inclusion Coalition Leadership Team members have participated in the Public Safety Police Academy. Their common takeaway from the academy was an appreciation for the culture of service our safety officers exude. How have you cultivated that spirit of duty and service in your officers?
For us, it begins with the hiring process. The community and department expectations are clearly communicated during the initial phases of the hiring process. Every candidate participating in the first round of interviews learns they need to be a good fit for the Oakwood Public Safety Department and the City of Oakwood, and that the department and city must be a good fit for them. Being a fully consolidated public safety department where each member is certified as a peace officer, firefighter, and EMT/Paramedic, the department is unique in its operations and, therefore, may not be for everyone. This two-way engagement truly allows the hiring team to follow a path of conversation and dialogue with each candidate to identify that special individual who embodies who we are and what we try to represent as a department. Once a new officer joins the department, they engage in a comprehensive field training program that focuses on how to provide first-class and professional safety service to the citizens and
businesses of Oakwood.
Q: How are your officers trained to respond to calls and situations with mental health components?
Every PSO is certified as a Mental Health First Aid Responder. This certification course is a skills-based training course designed to teach participants about mental health and substance-related issues. We intentionally incorporate real-life service response calls into our training, so our PSOs are well equipped to identify, understand, and respond. In addition, all our shifts include personnel who completed the advanced Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training offered through the Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board. Our dispatchers, too, have completed the CIT Companion training course, enabling them to identify and respond effectively to a caller suffering from a mental health crisis. Our department also works closely with Crisis Now, a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week local call center designed to assist a person experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. The call center dispatches mobile response teams comprised of licensed clinicians to help the person in need. While Crisis Now operates independently and separately from our department, we promote its use. In fact, I'll provide the number now: For the Crisis Now hotline, call 1-833-580-2255. Also, call 988 if you want to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Q: How would you describe your department's interactions with the Dayton Police Department?
I would describe the Oakwood Public Safety Department's interactions with the Dayton Police Department as a professional, cooperative partnership across all ranks. Dayton has always been willing to provide support whenever our department requires assistance. Additionally, the departments have mutual aid agreements for a couple of common areas of interest along our joint jurisdictional boundary line.