Cincinnati program to be model for new statewide response to veteran crises

Sgt. Dave Corlett
Posted at 6:28 PM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 18:41:06-04

CINCINNATI — Police departments across Ohio have received a recommendation from the Ohio Attorney General to implement a program created in Cincinnati to aid police response to a scene where a veteran is in crisis.

The Military Liaison Group was the idea of Cincinnati Police Sergeant Dave Corlett.

“Last year we were about 1,000 officers, over 300 veterans in the department so we’re more than a 30% veteran department which allowed me to expand the program,” Corlett said.

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 healthcare 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."

That led to a discovery process for Corlett, who began to not only get healthcare at the VA, but he also began to better understand the process so he could share the knowledge with other veterans on the department and help veterans when he dealt with them during police calls.

“So, when I’m talking to a veteran and telling him he needs to go to the VA I don’t just tell him he needs to go to the VA, I ask him if he’s willing to go with me and speak to a doctor I know by name and I will take you there myself,” said Corlett.

That scenario played out one night when a veteran had a mental health crisis and barricaded himself inside with several guns, threatening to kill himself.

"Our crisis negotiator had been on the phone with him for 90 minutes before he remembered we existed," Corlett said. "He called me, woke me up and said, 'I need you to get down here.' Ten minutes later, he walked out and surrendered to me and I personally drove him up to the Veterans Administration hospital."

He said what they do is not a Band-Aid.

"We try to follow up and try to guide them into fixing the issues that brought to the crisis in the first place," said Corlett.

The program is made up of partnerships from the Veterans Court, Easterseals, sheriff's departments, fire departments, and more.

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," Ohio 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.

“Recognizing the particular issues that a vet might have and looking for a way to respond proportionally,” Yost said.

As Corlett prepares for retirement from the police department, he said he’s proud of the program he will leave behind and the mark he’s made on so many other veterans.

“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,” Corlett said.

You can read the Veterans Response Program guidelines on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

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