New Haven Police implements force-wide, Yale-advised trauma training

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Joined by Yale faculty, the New Haven Police Department (NHPD) announced Friday that it will be the first police department in the country to provide all its officers with trauma-informed response training. The training will follow a new curriculum — called “Protecting and Serving: Enhancing Trauma-informed Police Responses to Children and Families Exposed to Violence” — which was co-written by faculty at the Yale Child Study Center and members of the NHPD.

This curriculum is part of the current nationwide initiative “Enhancing Police Responses to Children Exposed to Violence: A Toolkit for Law Enforcement.” The toolkit was developed in conjunction with the International Association of Police Services with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention.

Both the curriculum and the toolkit grew out of strategies and approaches that the City of New Haven has been using for more than 25 years as part of the Yale Child Study Center’s Child Development Community Policing (CDCP) program. The police department in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where CDCP has been replicated, also assisted with writing the new training program.

Designed to take place in a single day, the “Protecting and Serving” curriculum will equip NHPD officers to more effectively respond to children and families following potentially traumatic events. These include incidents of domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, motor vehicle accidents, neighborhood violence, and other events to which the police respond on a regular basis.

Police are so much more than law enforcers in their communities. Police bring order to chaos and can restore a sense of safety and security in the wake of violence,” says Hilary Hahn, project director of the Trauma-informed Policing Initiative. This project is a program of the Childhood Violent Trauma Center (CVTC) at the Yale Child Study Center.  

Behind this curriculum is the theory that law enforcement agencies can advance the recovery of individual children and families when they embrace their critical role in the healing process, explained Hahn. Embracing this role may also allow officers to advance healing between law enforcement and the community they serve, she said.

Police officers play a major role in the lives of vulnerable children. They can be a key protective factor helping to change a trajectory towards negative outcomes that is often associated with trauma and violence,” she said.

In recent years, the epidemic nature of childhood exposure to violence in the United States has been widely acknowledged. So, too, has the enormous negative impact that exposure can have on children’s development. These negative impacts can persist into adulthood.

It has been said and is still true: The children are our future,” said Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova. “As parents, caregivers, first responders, and a society as a whole, we should make it our business to provide children and young adults with everything necessary to grow up without the lingering mental scars from trauma and violence.”

In order to train the entire department in the curriculum quickly, 17 members of the NHPD and faculty from the Yale Child Study Center were first trained to teach the curriculum. Together, the team will lead the trainings over the next several months. Lt. Robert Criscuolo, director of the NHPD Training Academy, is coordinating the effort and said he sees a close connection between this initiative and the department’s mission.

The New Haven Police Department Training Academy is dedicated to providing officers with current, relevant training,” said Criscuolo. “Our partnership with the Yale Child Study Center allows us to provide a valuable opportunity for every officer to gain the tools and knowledge to better respond to traumatic incidents involving children. New Haven police officers, acting as instructors alongside Yale Child Study Center clinicians, add credibility and insight to the training.”

This training for the department is a continuation of its commitment to serving the needs of our city’s most vulnerable children and families,” said Steven Marans, director of the CVTC, and co-founder of the CDCP model.

The NHPD has long been the national leader in recognizing the role that responding officers can play in identifying and addressing the immediate and longer-term needs of traumatized children and families,” Marans added. “Working with our police partners over these many years has increased our understanding of trauma and led to new treatment strategies that are proven to greatly improve the outcomes for children who have been exposed to violence.”  

Hilary Hahn also contributed to this article.

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