New Canaan Police reported Wednesday that psychiatric-related calls doubled year-over-year in March, from four to eight.
Though the overall figure remains manageable, Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said he expects the rapid increase to be “a trend we will see continue.”
“And lining up with that was our incident on Friday night,” Krolikowski said during a regular meeting of the Commission, held via videoconference.
“Officers handled it perfectly, where we had a family member that was irate. Behavioral health issues, under the influence of something, threatening his family members with a knife and wouldn’t let a couple of them leave. Our shift went there, a hostage negotiator went there, the Special Response Team went there, [Deputy Chief] John [DiFederico] and myself went there, and through negotiation he did surrender and was taken into custody on a number of charges. And he will get the help he needs in some way. We have been involved with him many times and are very concerned about this behavior and his ability to be violent, so that is certainly a concern.”
He referred to an April 10 domestic incident and arrest on Millport Avenue that resulted in a local man being held on $150,000 bond.
Police had anticipated a rise in psychiatric calls amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, which has brought with it widespread anxiety as well as financial pressures and restrictions that are seeing families live in close quarters for long periods of time.
In addition to medical (up 27% in March) and psychiatric calls, Krolikowski said that despite the pandemic, “We still have criminal gang members coming through town in the middle of the night, taking from unlocked cars.”
“And they stole a couple of cars in the past couple of weeks, keys in them,” he said. “So folks are still not locking their cars despite the pandemic we are in, so that is a concern.”
NCPD itself has changed the way it works amid the public health emergency. While officers will continue to respond to emergency calls—such as for medical emergencies or crimes-in-progress—they’re now required to limit contact with the public for safety’s sake.
Krolikowski said during the meeting that, except in cases where they’re alone in a room or police vehicle, officers are required to wear a mask to help limit transmission of the virus.
“We are all doing our best and thanks to Deputy Chief DiFederico and Capt. [Andrew] Walsh for all the work they have done in the last many weeks, trying to protect our officers as best we can,” the chief said. “Get them the PPE they need, the training they need, the information they need when they are responding to these calls. They are on the front lines and putting themselves at risk. This is a new territory for everybody and we are learning as we go along. The good news is we are not seeing the loss that other department are seeing, with officers are out due to the COVID-19 crisis. That could change at any point but I am hopeful that perhaps the COVID-19 cases have peaked and we will see a decline over the next couple of months. So hopefully that will decrease the opportunities for our the officers to become positive and take them out of work and not be healthy and continue to serve the town. We are doing everything we can.”
Two municipal workers in New Canaan recently tested positive for COVID-19, prompting firefighters also to change their policy regarding masks.
“It’s so contagious that literally it can get contracted by anyone, anywhere,” the chief said. “And I think the experts said recently that most first responders that do get it don’t usually get it at work. They get it out of work and then come to work with it. Because it can sometimes folks are asymptomatic and then eventually they do get exposed at work. So there is a little mystery as to how it’s getting spread. But we do know that it’s very contagious. We know that we are going to do our best to protect our officers.”
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