CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Police Department’s community policing efforts aimed at helping veterans in distress are getting national recognition.
After years of service to the community, CPD sergeant and Army veteran Dave Corlett founded the Military Liason Group to make a difference while out on patrol.
“This program brought me back to where I felt like I was making a difference, and that was my goal as a policeman to begin with,” Dave Corlett said.
More than 30% of the officers on staff in Cincinnati are military veterans, according to Corlett. As such, he saw an opportunity to be a bridge to the veterans in distress that he and his fellow officers encounter on dispatched calls.
The concept is relatively simple: Veterans currently serving within the department respond to scenes where military veterans are in distress. It could be a domestic call or even a situation where the veteran is threatening suicide.
“The communication that goes on between two veterans is much different than the communication that would go on between a law enforcement officer and a veteran,” Corlett said. “The ability to have relatable experiences — you can’t get any better than that.”
It’s part of the de-escalation process and often opens the door to treatment or services the veteran didn’t realize were available to them.
“I’m a Gulf War veteran, so I was out of the military and here serving in the police department by June 1992. I didn’t learn until five or six years ago that I was eligible for health care at the VA," Corlett said. "So that kind of struck me that if I didn’t know those things, other veterans don’t know them either."
The success of the program and its simplistic approach caught the eye of Ohio’s Attorney General.
“I was so impressed with this, I immediately talked to my team and said we need to push this out around the state," Attorney General Dave Yost said. "We need to help other departments begin to do this.”
Working with Corlett, the AG’s office created the Veterans Response Program guidelines for other police departments in the state.
“There’s a lot of talk about de-escalation and this is just one tool in that de-escalation toolkit,” Yost said. “Instead of hooking someone up and taking them down to the county, connecting them to resources to help them is a much better outcome.”
While he said the program doesn’t prevent arrests if the situation warrants it, it does put veterans on a path, whether through Veterans Court or the VA healthcare system, to turn their situation around.
The idea grabbed the attention of Florida Republican Congresswoman Maria Salazar, who introduced the ‘Service Act’ on the house floor in the fall which would open the door to grants for law enforcement agencies across the country wanting to implement the idea via a pilot program.
This week the Department of Justice will recognize the efforts of Sergeant Corlett, the Cincinnati Police Department, and the Cincinnati VA as the recipient of the 2021 L. Anthony Sutin Award for Innovative Law Enforcement and Community Partnerships.
"Creative, meaningful partnerships between law enforcement and the community are at the heart of community policing,” said Robert Chapman, Acting Director of the COPS Office. “To see how the efforts of individuals determined to help veterans in need has had an impact on an entire state — and possibly the country — shows how community policing can change lives. It's a privilege to honor this team."
The ceremony will take place at Cincinnati Music Hall on Aug. 11 at 1 p.m.