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Building trust: New training program aimed at improving relations between police, homeless people

California Violence Intervention and Prevention social worker Kelly Gallaugher, left, and Grass Valley Police Officer Jonathan Brown speak with a member of the community last week in the Glenbrook Basin. Brown and Gallaugher are both trained in the Peace Officers and Standards Training (POST), which teaches officers how to work with mental health challenged people and encourages de-escalation.
Photo: Elias Funez

Nevada County law enforcement officials and advocates for homeless people are applauding a training program designed to improve police officer’s interactions with the homeless.

Hospitality House, the county’s largest homeless shelter, introduced the Peace Officers and Standards Training (POST) curriculum to Nevada County earlier this year, in partnership with regional law enforcement entities. These partner agencies include the Grass Valley Police Department, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, and the Nevada City Police Department.

“Our goals here are to work with homeless individuals at the street level, teaching de-escalation, of course, and bringing law enforcement officers to the table on issues of emotional intelligence and social capital,” said Hospitality House outreach manager Joe Naake. “We’re showing officers how to work with mental health challenged people and educating officers on what those resources are.”



Grass Valley Police Officer Jonathan Brown smiles as he talks with a member of the community last week in the Glenbrook Basin. Brown is one of 24 sworn peace officers to take part in the POST training locally.
Photo: Elias Funez

At training sessions, officers are taught to listen well and show understanding in potentially confrontational situations involving homeless people, Naake said. They are also made aware of specific resources at their disposal to address challenges faced by them. Such resources include being able to call crisis stabilization units for persons suffering from mental illness, or being able to connect the homeless to home outreach groups.

POST is a statewide voluntary training for police departments created in 1959. California awards benefits to participating police agencies to incentivize participation in the program, according to the state website.



In 2018, the California Board of State and Community Corrections reached out to Nevada County leadership and issued a Request For Proposal for a county agency to come up with a training curriculum for law enforcement. Hospitality House leadership submitted its proposal to train police through the POST curriculum, and the request was officially approved in 2019.

A homeless couple holds hands as they talk with social worker Kelly Gallaugher and officer Jonathan Brown last week near the Spirit Peer Empowerment Center in Grass Valley. Both Gallaugher and Brown worked to help find the pair lodging.
Photo: Elias Funez

In March, Hospitality House conducted two POST sessions, both in collaboration with Grass Valley police. Each session was run by both a Hospitality House worker and a police officer, and entailed 16 hours of training, according to Hospitality House spokesperson Kindy McCullough. A total of 24 sworn police officers participated in the training, along with one unsworn officer and a department social worker.

RELATIONSHIPS

Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard said that the training has been effective in instructing officers on different techniques they can use to de-escalate serious situations involving the homeless. He added that the curriculum has also helped police understand how they can build rapport and form relationships with homeless individuals.

“As police, it takes relationships in order to get things done. This training sharpened our skills on how to interact with people on the service side and the street side,” Gammelgard said. “What was really impactful was the curriculum and education on emotional intelligence, empathy-based interviewing, and listening,” he added.

The training is also significant to the community because it gives police more options in dealing with homeless individuals other than simply citing or arresting them, Naake said. Officers are instead encouraged to connect the homeless to professional groups that can provide assistance, such as mental health crisis stabilization teams or homeless outreach organizations.

Grass Valley Police Officer Jonathan Brown empties a bottle of liquor after making contact with a person in Grass Valley’s Glenbrook Basin last week.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Instead of officers going into these situations re-actively, we can go in proactively with law enforcement or deal with these individuals in a way that doesn’t require law enforcement. There are resources available for these people, instead of just putting someone away in a correctional facility,” Naake said.

Nancy Baglietto, executive director of Hospitality House, said that the new training has already had an impact through Grass Valley’s California Violence Intervention and Prevention program. The program, created in October, supports a full-time team of one Grass Valley officer and one Hospitality House social worker who regularly respond to police calls involving the homeless.

The team uses POST principles in building better relationships between law enforcement and the unhoused community, said CALVIP’s primary social worker Kelly Gallaugher.

A pair of Grass Valley police officers arrest a woman for trespassing and refusing to leave a business in the Glenbrook Basin last week.
Photo: Elias Funez

“This (POST) is a program that from what I saw humanizes homeless people a little more, talks about stigma in terms of a highly stigmatized population,” said Gallaugher, who sat in on one of the POST sessions in March.

“I felt like there was good, earnest discussion about homeless people, about the factors that cause homelessness, and just greater understanding generally,” she added.

CALVIP’s lead police officer — Jonathan Brown, who works alongside Gallaugher — said that POST is helping police build better rapport with homeless people in Nevada County. Brown shared a recent story where he and Gallaugher were able to assist an unhoused man with severe medical problems. While the man had initially refused to accept help, Brown said that their interactions with him over the course of several months built up enough trust to the point where Brown and Gallaugher were able to connect him with a temporary housing organization. He now is housed and is receiving the necessary medical care, Brown added.

“He went from being someone who wouldn’t engage with us and was very hesitant, to being receptive as a result of the rapport building that went into this. He recently told us that we were his guardian angels and the most important people in his life,” Brown said.

Nevada County social worker Kelly Gallaugher and Grass Valley Police Officer Jonathan Brown talk to a homeless couple last week on the streets and try to find them temporary housing.
Photo: Elias Funez

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at swyer@theunion.com


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