Vermont State Police utilize comfort dog in de-escalation situations
ST. ALBANS, Vt. (WCAX) - Dogs are helping bridge the gap between police officers and mental health agencies.
The Vermont State Police barracks in St. Albans currently has five dogs, but one dog has found a way to help in ways other police dogs can’t.
“He’s not a law enforcement dog, he’s not fully a therapy dog,” said Nicholas Tebbetts with Northwestern Counseling and Support Services.
Tebbetts is a clinician and crisis specialist embedded with Vermont State Police since 2016. His partner is four-legged Cooper, a highly trained working dog whose job is to respond to any situation that could be thrown his way.
“Cooper has responded to a lot of fatal accidents, accidental fatals, completed suicides, we support DCF in certain situations with kids and everyone is just drawn to the dog,” said Tebbetts.
He responds with state police to volatile situations to help de-escalate or provide comfort to someone in need of assistance.
“When you show up with a dog, they immediately want to go to the dog, they immediately want to pet the dog, they immediately want to play with the dog. So just by having him there, not even by having him do any work, they immediately want to de-escalate and hang out with him,” said Tebbetts.
According to Tebbetts, Cooper isn’t just a comfort dog but has spent a lot of time training to fill every role he can.
“Our big thing is we wanted Cooper and myself to be an asset, not a liability, so we went to the highest level of training that we could to guarantee that in any scenario, Cooper could either help or get out of the way to not cause a liability for the state police,” said Tebbetts.
He spent time at the police academy to work on being around gunfire, as well as yelling. Cooper is nationally certified in tracking, article search and has his national obedience certification.
And Cooper knows his role, completing 16 hours of extra training a month to ensure he and Tebbetts are an asset, not a liability during an unfolding situation.
State Police Lt. Jerry Partin says there is a balance that Tebbetts and Cooper offer that you can’t find with any other program, calling this duo invaluable.
“With him on scene, he can’t do what we do, and then we can’t do what he does, so that partnership should always be there,” said Partin.
Since the clinician embedded program began in 2016, NCSS reports 45% of scene responses with a clinician have resulted in mental health referrals and additional outreach, as opposed to an arrest or more tragic outcome.
NCSS is a part of a statewide mental health network and could expand to other police departments.
“If we had a Nick and Cooper for every scene or every call, that would be beneficial,” said Partin.
Cooper doesn’t respond to every situation, but police say when he goes, he makes a difference.
The now-retired lieutenant who started this program says it’s the most beneficial program he’s been affiliated with since joining Vermont State Police.
Retired Lt. Maurice Lamonthe says a team like this could help fill a crisis worker role in police departments.
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