As both a police officer and the hospital’s very first B.R.A.V.E. (Behavioral Response Against Violence Escalation) officer, Dawn Roberts is used to wearing two hats. Hired by the hospital in 2018, Dawn has specialized crisis intervention training in violence de-escalation – specifically associated with behavioral health patients.
“Crisis Intervention Team training, or CIT for short, promotes partnerships with law enforcement, mental health workers and individuals who live with mental health or addiction disorders,” Dawn said. “It focuses on helping people in a mental health crisis access treatment and resources rather than placing them in the criminal justice system.”
Between the Akron and Mahoning Valley campuses, the hospital currently has 3 B.R.A.V.E. officers and 6 CIT-certified officers.
“Our training consists of 40 hours of learning about mental health, de-escalation tactics, community resources and role playing with the guidance of mental health professionals, as well as with people who suffer from mental illness and addiction,” Dawn said.
Dawn began her career in health care in 1992 as a medical assistant and phlebotomist. She also worked in both patient relations and as a patient liaison in a Level 1 trauma center. She says after working closely with law enforcement in these previous jobs, she found her true calling.
“I believed that becoming an officer would allow me to combine my prior experiences serving those in need with my experiences growing up in the foster care system to truly make a difference in my community,” she said. “This training allows me to empathize with people in crisis, ensuring they receive the care they need.”
One of the biggest differences between her roles as a B.R.A.V.E. officer and a police officer is the uniform she wears.
“B.R.A.V.E. officers wear khakis and a polo shirt as a more casual approach,” she explained. “A lot of the kids we deal with have had law enforcement interactions that weren’t always positive (like being taken from their parents along with CSB or being arrested due to criminal activity) so not wearing a ‘typical’ police uniform makes me more approachable. It also helps the kids to not feel as defensive.”
Dawn recently was recognized for her work with the CIT Youth Officer of the Year award.
“I received this award for initiating Chief (Jerome) Klue’s B.R.A.V.E. unit and utilizing CIT concepts at the hospital,” she said. “This award is truly the greatest honor of my life because I am extremely passionate about helping the youth of today who suffer from mental and behavioral health diagnoses. I feel that if we can create a positive relationship with these children while they are young, police interactions later in their lives will be more productive and will lead them to the help and resources they need, rather than landing them in jail.
“My goal is to make a lasting, positive impact. When people are in crisis, it can take a long time to build a rapport in which they trust me enough to talk to me,” she added. “Once I understand the nature of the crisis and what their needs are, I can then begin to help, and that part feels very rewarding.”